The Three Closenesses 三贴近

At the Sixteenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in 2002, Hu Jintao was appointed General Secretary. Li Changchun became the Standing Committee member tasked with coordinated propaganda and ideology. In China, where ideological formulations are of supreme importance, the new leadership under Hu Jintao needed a concise formula to deliver their policy on media control. In January 2003, Li Changchun announced top leadership would take a “Three Closenesses” approach to the control of mass media: “Closeness to reality, closeness to the masses and closeness to real life” (贴近实际,贴近群众, 贴近生活). Li said the emphasis of propaganda work should be uniting the “spirit” of the Party with public opinion. This was an elaboration of Jiang Zemin’s notion of “guidance of public opinion”, the idea being that people should be both guided and given media they found more attractive, interesting and relevant (in other words, could actually consume). Li Changchun also called for “enlarging and strengthening” (做强做大), the idea being that “cultural” organizations (media, arts, etcetera) should push actively to become full-fledged businesses, forming an industry made up of powerful Chinese conglomerates (“aircraft carriers” they were actually called) equipped to do battle with foreign media groups like News Corp (China’s WTO accession had come in December 2001).
The “Three Closenesses” approach has addressed some problems with Chinese media, most notably those insipid and long-winded stories about official goings-on. However, “enlarging and strengthening”, an important component of the “Three Closenesses”, has enhanced the power of the Party, some argue, by accelerating the commercial development of (now very wealthy) Party-run media while leaders continue to strictly control the media and limit the exercise of “supervision of public opinion”, or state-sanctioned watchdog journalism. The tendency has also been toward entertainment and infotainment, while hard news has been shunned as dangerous and therefore not helpful to the bottom line.

David Bandurski

Now director of the CMP, leading the project’s research and partnerships, David joined the team in 2004 after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is currently an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. He is the author of Dragons in Diamond Village (Penguin/Melville House), a book of reportage about urbanization and social activism in China, and co-editor of Investigative Journalism in China (HKU Press).