The Four Unchangeables 党管媒体4不变

The “Four Unchangeables” is the buzzword for the central policy affirming the Communist Party’s control of the media under the rapid acceleration of commercialization and structural reforms. It can be seen as a policy cousin of Hu Jintao’s “Three Closenesses” (2002), which called for media to become more relevant to people’s lives (essentially, through commercialization) and “enlarging and strengthening”, which was about the creation of Chinese media groups fit to compete with international media groups like News Corp and Yahoo!. [See People’s Daily Online section on “multi-media groups”]. [More English-Chinese coverage of media conglomeration here]. The first articulation of the “Four Unchangeables” came on May 29, 2001, as Beijing All Media and Culture Group was officially launched in China’s capital. The opening ceremony was attended by media-minder big wigs like Propaganda Department vice-minister and SARFT head Xu Guangchun (徐光春), State Council Information Office head Li Bing (李冰), and top Beijing city officials. Representing Beijing’s Party committee and the city government, vice-secretary Long Xinmin (龙新民) said that under any conditions whatsoever, “the Party’s control of the media would not change (党管媒体不能变), the Party’s control of top media personnel would not change (党管干部不能变), the Party’s control over the ideological direction of media would not change (党管导向不能变), and the Party’s control over the asset structure of the media would not change (党管资产不能变)”. From this point on, most official reports about media consolidation, the formation of “news groups” etc., came hand-in-hand with mention of the “Four Unchangeables”.
In 2004, some mainland media reported a relaxing of restrictions on the operation of newspapers in China after Chongqing’s IT Home Publishing (电脑报社) and Zhong Ke Pu Media (重庆中科普传媒) teamed up with Hong Kong’s Tom Group. An official from the General Administration of Press and Publications, the media minders for publishing, stepped up to end the speculation and clarify exactly what the deal meant: “IT Home Publishing’s joint-venture (合资公司) is responsible only for the business side”, the official said. In other words, the Party would maintain tight controls over content – a clenched fist for politics and ideology, an open hand for business interests. In fact, the GAPP official said, IT Home was one of eight newspapers that had been designated by the Communist Party as an experiment in reform (by which they meant commercialization). The paper would be transformed from a “government-sponsored institution” (事业单位) to an “enterprise”. And this was not, as some media had reported, “the first news publishing joint-venture enterprise to be approved by GAPP since 1949”, officials said. The first such venture had in fact been the 2002 alliance between People’s Daily and Hong Kong’s Sing Tao News Corporation Limited (the publisher of Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily and The Standard. At the time, GAPP officials said total investment in this venture was 250 million yuan (US$31 million), with People’s Daily holding a 51 percent stake. [Company’s Website here, includes introduction touting the link-up as an illustration of China’s opening of its media to the “outside” following WTO entry. Its business scope is limited to retail distribution]
According to officials, the eight “newspapers” slated for commercial reforms included four newspaper groups and four newspapers. These were: Henan Daily Group, Xinhua Daily Group, Dazhong Daily Group (大众日报), Shenzhen Daily Group (深圳日报), IT Home (电脑报), China Securities News (中国证券报), Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报) and Jin Wan Bao (今晚报). Then, as might be expected, came the “Four Unchangeables”. The GAPP official said: “These eight experiments in cooperation and restructuring have one thing in common, and that is that they are limited [in their cooperation] to the realm of business (经营领域). They are entrusted with business operations. They do not have the right to publish (出版权) or media proprietorship (媒体所有权). The right to publish and media proprietorship are exclusive rights of the newspaper’s sponsoring institution (主管单位).”
The GAPP official emphasized that the premise of restructuring [in the media] was to differentiate media and carry out reforms to the business side of newspaper groups. “But no matter how they are reformed”, he said, “the Party’s control of the media would not change, the Party’s control of top media personnel would not change, the Party’s control over the ideological direction of media would not change, and the Party’s control over the asset structure of the media would not change”.
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 22, 2006, 5:08pm]

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).