By David Bandurski — In this year of sensitive anniversaries in China, there is one anniversary that perhaps will not seem obvious to many. June 20 marks the one-year anniversary of President Hu Jintao’s bold new vision for China’s media and its propaganda function in the 21st century.
On June 20, 2008, Hu Jintao delivered his first speech since taking office in 2002 to deal comprehensively with PRC news media and their role in China and the world. In the year since Hu made this “important speech” (重要讲话) to propaganda leaders, its policy implications have become somewhat clearer, and at the China Media Project we have labeled this new regime of information control tactics “Control 2.0.”
Control 2.0 is still evolving, of course, but at its core is the idea that Communist Party leaders must “use” media more artfully and actively to drive the agenda.
[ABOVE: Front page of June 8 Jiangxi Daily covers the provincial party secretary’s speech about propaganda in the “new era.” See below for details.]
By the middle of last year, even before Hu’s speech, Chinese media professionals, particularly at Internet portals, were telling CMP that there was a much stronger push by party leaders not just to discipline and control them, but to “use” them.
In the age of Control 2.0 — in the face of new information technologies — it is no longer sufficient for party leaders to stopper information through traditional press control tactics (propaganda orders, disciplining of journalists, etc.). They must also push the party’s own agendas by making use of the Internet and China’s new generation of commercialized media.
Invoking the post-June 4th buzzword for media controls, Hu Jintao referred to this media policy as a “new pattern of public opinion guidance.”
Part of this policy is a first-strike mentality being pushed at central party media and English media such as China Daily, the idea that official versions of the story should be hustled out quickly to take the wind out of the sails of “Western media” and drive the agenda early on.
Reported by foreign news media, these strike-first reports have been mistaken repeatedly for more positive and fundamental changes to media policy in China. That may make for a decent story hook, but the thesis is not borne out by other signs in the media terrain.
The advent of Control 2.0 can also be seen in the reworking of the relationships between various party media control terminologies. As we have said repeatedly in our analyses, the primary term in the media control lexicon since June 4, 1989, has been “guidance of public opinion,” or yulun daoxiang (舆论导向).
“Guidance of public opinion” links the complex business of press censorship together with the overarching priorities of economic and political stability, and it still encompasses the larger notion of media CONTROL.
Insofar as media control remains the top priority, “guidance” is still supreme. But a new phrase, superficially similar, seems to be on the rise: “Public opinion channeling”, or yulun yindao (舆论引导).
Some media scholars in China, including former CMP fellow Zhan Jiang, have noted a terminology transition since Hu Jintao’s June 2008 speech from public opinion “guidance” to public opinion “channeling.” Zhan has further suggested, if I understand his point properly, that this might mark a softening of approach on the party’s part.
In our estimation, however, this terminology shift reflects only the new focus on pushing and amplifying party messages and agendas, and does not suggest a diminishing interest in “guidance.” “Channeling,” in other words, is a modification that complements more traditional controls to meet the challenges of propaganda work in the 21st century.
We will have to keep our eyes on these terminologies, but it seems they should probably be used simultaneously rather than interchangeably.
In concert, “guidance” and “channeling” may reflect Hu Jintao’s two-pronged approach to propaganda work. The former is all about CONTROL, which is still at the heart of media policy, while the latter reflects the party’s renewed determination to “use” the media to actively push certain messages while others are “guided” out of existence.
These policies come to us through the murky lens of official-speak, and of course we have to puzzle out their meaning from media practice. But the way local party leaders implement and talk about them can also be very revealing.
Earlier this week, Jiangxi Daily, the official party newspaper of Jiangxi province, ran the full text of a speech to local journalists by party secretary Su Rong (苏荣) to honor Jiangxi Daily‘s 60th anniversary.
In his speech, Su Rong lays emphasis on “guidance” and “channeling”, and places both in a wider ideological context that leaves little room for the liberalization thesis that these changes signal a new openness in China’s media environment.
It’s all there. Mao Zedong’s assertion that “politicians must run the newspapers.” Deng Xiaoping’s insistence that “news work must uphold the principle of the party spirit.” The Pre-eminence of the “Marxist view of journalism.” The sharp mockery of Western “freedom of speech.” And after all of these keystones are set firmly in place, Su Rong develops Hu Jintao’s argument for the need to adapt and make propaganda savvier and more salable.
A partial, but still very hefty, translation of Su Rong’s speech follows:
Firmly Grasping Correct Guidance of Public Opinion (正确舆论导向) and Striving to Raise Our Capacity for Public Opinion Channeling (舆论引导) — Jiangxi Provincial Party Secretary Su Rong’s Speech at a Forum with News Unit Comrades
June 5, 2009
I felt both delighted and inspired this morning as I made an inspection of central party media units stationed here in Jiangxi and of principal news units from our own province. Just now, a number of comrades from various news units addressed us, and they said it well. In recent years, news workers have deployed themselves strictly around the core work and critical policies of the provincial party and government, holding firmly to correct guidance of public opinion, organizing and executing a series of important propaganda campaigns, creating a favorable public opinion environment for Jiangxi’s rise and expansion.
The mass of news workers have remained faithful to the cause of the party’s news work, cherishing their positions and devoting themselves wholeheartedly to work, contributing selflessly. In each major event, in one major incident after another, at each critical juncture, they have been tried and tested. Experience confirms that news work teams (新闻工作队伍) in our province are of strong political conviction [ie: loyal to the party], clear in their professional duties, strict in their discipline [ie: keep to propaganda discipline] and upright in character. They are reliable, full of vim and vigor, and capable of striking strong blows [for the party].
In two days we will mark 60 years since the founding of Jiangxi Daily . . . [Has done great work for the party, doing excellent propaganda, etc.] . . . Here, I represent the provincial party committee and the provincial people’s government in warmly congratulating Jiangxi Daily as it celebrates 60 years. And I express also my warm greetings and utmost respect to all the news workers of our province! At the same time, I express my earnest thanks to news workers representing central party media here in our province!
Raising our capacity for public opinion channeling is a newer and higher demand of our news work defined by President Hu Jintao under the new circumstances [of globalization, digital media, etc.]. Lately, with the interacting of different cultures and complex changes in the public opinion environment, whether or not we can effectively regulate and control the mass media and correctly channel public opinion in society, establishing dominance amid diversity (在多元中立主导) and find consensus amid diversity (在多样中谋共识), is a crucial test of propaganda and public opinion work. We must adhere throughout to solidarity, stability and positivity, emphasizing positive propaganda (正面宣传为主), improving the aim and actual effect of public opinion channeling, continually raising the public opinion channeling capacity of mainstream media [ie: party media], giving full play to news media in publicizing the party’s views, propagating a spirit of moral uprightness, tapping into social conditions and popular feeling (通达社情民意), channeling issues of immediate social concern (引导社会热点), siphoning off public emotions (疏导公众情绪).
On this, the raising of our capacity for the channeling of public opinion and doing an adequate job of news and propaganda work, I’ll just talk about a couple of points. First of all, as to raising our capacity for channeling public opinion, we must uphold the Marxist view of journalism (马克思主义新闻观) and adhere to correct guidance of public opinion — these are the preconditions and foundation of enhancing our capacity for the channeling of public opinion.
Comrade Mao Zedong once said, “In doing news work, the politicians must run the newspapers” (“搞新闻工作，要政治家办报”). Comrade Deng Xiaoping said that “news work must uphold the principle of the party spirit” (“新闻宣传必须坚持党性原则”). Comrade Jiang Zemin once pointed out: “In upholding the principle of the party spirit, we must not permit vagueness or vacillation on the part of the news media” (“在坚持党性原则上，新闻媒体不允许有任何的含糊和动摇.”).
General Secretary Hu Jintao emphasized on an inspection of People’s Daily last year: “Correct channeling of public opinion benefits the party, the nation and the people; incorrect channeling of public opinion harm the party, the nation and the people.” These important pronouncements are distinct embodiments of the essence of the Marxist view of journalism, and they are embodiments of the fundamental demands of public opinion channeling.
We know that the Marxist view of journalism is a concrete manifestation of the ideological line of dialectical and historical materialism in the news and broadcasting sector, and it is the theoretical basis for doing adequate news and propaganda work in the new century and in this new phase. Its core is that the news media must adhere to and submit to the principles of the party, adhere to the principle of serving the people and serving socialism.
The Marxist view of journalism is a beacon light for journalism in all socialist nations, and if we depart from the correct guidance offered us by the Marxist view of journalism, the Socialist journalism enterprise will lose direction and go astray . . .
The news media of our nation are the mouthpieces of the party and the government, and they possess a clear and distinctive party character. In recent years, a number of people in the West have declared that “the media are public instruments,” that they are “public information platforms,” and they hold that “China has no freedom of speech.” Media, they say, should become a “fourth estate” independent from the party and the government. Whether consciously or unconsciously, some of our comrades may have been influenced by these arguments. Actually, for news reports in the West concerning important political matters and issues bearing on their vital interests, in every case strict controls are placed on the media. During the Iraq War, America did its utmost to put into effect President Bush’s plan for a “news filter,” seeking to lessen the space available to domestic news outlets whose views might clash with the government’s, using whatever means necessary to prevent journalists from going out and reporting. They strictly prevented reporters imbedded with American troops from reporting on or providing images of troop or civilian casualties, and punished journalists and television stations in “violation.”
Last year’s Deutsche Welle case was another strong indication of the West’s control and interference with its media. Zhang Danhong (张丹红) was deputy head of the Chinese news desk at Deutsche Welle, and during one interview she objectively assessed the achievements of China’s economic reform policies and said she understood the Chinese government’s moves to block “Tibet independence” and “Falun Gong” websites. For this, she was put on indefinite suspension from Deutsche Welle. This is not all. Western media, in order to protect the vital interests of the West, routinely ignore the facts and make outright fictions when they report international news. Without a doubt, this is a mockery of the “freedom of speech” Western nations have boasted of for so long. What Western media in fact represent are the political parties and big money behind the scenes. The “freedom of speech” they talk about in Western communications studies is fundamentally nonexistent.
And so, on questions of major importance concerning our basic political system and national interest, our news media must take a firm, clear-cut stand for the Marxist view of journalism, firmly and unshakably holding to correct guidance of public opinion. There must not be any deviation [from the party line] in news and propaganda. This is especially true this year, when many major events are happening in our country, when there are many important matters. News media at various levels have a high degree of political responsibility. They must firmly grasp news and propaganda work in this sensitive period, quickly grasping trends and tendencies and sensitive issues where they are emerging . . . working hard to bring about wholesome and high-spirited mainstream public opinion throughout society. At the same time, those at the head of news media at various levels must constantly raise their political consciousness, their consciousness of the overall situation and their sense of responsibility, maintaining throughout a high-level of consonance with the central party . . .
Secondly, raising our capacity for channeling public opinion must thoroughly revolve around the core of economic and social development. Serving the overall situation [of economic and political stability and development] is ever the business of news and propaganda, and it is a critical task of news and propaganda work.
News and propaganda work must serve the expansion of economic development . . . Recently, media in and outside our province widely reported that power consumption increases in Jiangxi maintained a high level and came in highest in the country [compared with other provinces].
[Editor’s NOTE: This report is available here. Clearly written from the standpoint of Jiangxi leaders, the news lede calls the latest power consumption statistics “exciting” and ends with an exclamation point. It then goes on to quote the party secretary of Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics as saying that power consumption is an important economic development indicator.]
People’s Daily ran in a prominent position the news that “Jiangxi’s industrial economy is accelerating well.” These news reports had a very good effect [on Jiangxi’s image] and echoed strongly. Henceforth, media at various levels [in our province] must cleave tightly to the core work of the provincial party and government, energetically publicizing the work of various regions and departments in thoroughly implementing the “Three Safeguards” (三保一弘扬) [of President Hu Jintao]. [Editor’s NOTE: On a visit to Jiangxi province this year, Hu Jintao addressed the global economic downturn and said that the party’s goal would be to “safeguard economic development, safeguard the people’s livelihoods and safeguard social stability.”]
[The “media must” language continues in this section. The media must “energetically praise the socialism core value system” and “sing the main theme [of the party]” etc.]
News and propaganda work must promote social harmony and stability. Development is the absolute principle, and stability is our principle task. Without a harmonious and stable social environment, we can accomplish nothing, and that which we have accomplished might be undone. Our nation’s economic development has lately entered a key phase (关键时期), and the relationships between various social interests show increasingly complexity. New situations and new problems are emerging constantly. News media at various levels must have an earnest grasp of [public opinion] channeling of urgent social issues and problems. They must actively carry out [public opinion] channeling for issues of key perennial concern to the public, such as employment, healthcare, housing, education, the stock markets, the campaign against corruption, etc., transforming extreme agitation into calmness (化过激为冷静), transforming opposition into understanding, transforming resentment into trust. Particularly in the case of sudden-breaking news and mass incidents, we must get in faster, forestalling our opponents by a show of strength (先声夺人) [NOTE: basically, “stealing the thunder”], creating strong public opinion [in our favor], quickly seizing the initiative and the power to speak authoritatively (话语权和主动权), thoroughly leveraging public opinion channeling to resolve social conflicts, settle emotions, eliminate misgivings and rally popular feeling.
Thirdly, in order to enhance our capacity for public opinion channeling, we must heed the wisdom of the ancients concerning news and propaganda: “Absent literary grace, words have neither influence nor place” (言之无文，行而不远). From the standpoint of journalism, the character for “words” in this saying points to the need for a richness of facts in news reports, but it places even greater emphasis on the relevant arts and techniques of public opinion channeling. Lenin once said: “The art of every propagandist and mobilizer lies in employing the most effective means of influencing his own listeners.” In raising our capacity to channel public opinion, we must pay particular attention to the art of propaganda, and artfully carry out propaganda. Only in this way can we attract an audience to the greatest degree possible.
To enhance our capacity for public opinion channeling we must expend effort in raising the attractiveness and infectiveness [of news products]. Our goal in conducting propaganda is to make people understand and accept [the party’s position]; if people do not understand or accept [the party’s position] then our work is done for nothing, and this is also a waste of propaganda resources. Experience teaches that only by disseminating the party and government’s voice from an angle the masses care about intimately and in a way that the masses enjoy can we better utilize the benefits of public opinion channeling.
We understand that Phoenix TV is a media very welcomed on the mainland. A market study has shown that 81.3 percent of those surveyed here in mainland China know Phoenix TV. Phoenix TV is welcomed not just because of its authoritative, in-depth and timely news content, but because of its rich and varied, fresh and lively program formats and reporting styles. If we want our news products to channel [public opinion] effectively and attract audiences, we must be clear and concise, understandable and easy-going, vivid and realistic. We need to cut down on stuff that is standard and uniform and build up stuff that is unique and original. We need to cut down on empty verbiage and have more real voices from the grassroots and the masses . . . We need particularly to adhere to a popular orientation (以人为本), unifying the Party’s views and the people’s will, upholding correct guidance of public opinion while tapping into social conditions and popular feeling. . . .
In order to raise our capacity to channel public opinion, we must make an effort to choose our timing well. Public opinion channeling must be both timely and opportune.
The same propaganda content, released at different moments, might bring very different results. There is an art to when things are said and what things are said at different times. Last year, some anti-China forces internationally severely interrupted the Olympic torch relay and stirred up a surge of public opinion. Some domestic Chinese media followed suit in pan-frying this story, so that not only did media not serve a positive channeling role, but in fact they stirred up the irrational emotions of some of the masses, particularly young students.
People’s Daily was timely in putting out a series of editorials, including “How Patriotism Can Become More Powerful” (爱国主义如何更有力) and “Patriotic Feeling and National Interest” (爱国热情与国家利益), which promoted rational exercise of one’s patriotism. These strongly channeled the emotions of the masses, served a very favorable public opinion channeling role, and they were well received by readers. On February 2 this year, as Premier Wen Jiabao offered a witty response after his address at Cambridge University was disturbed by the “shoe throwing” incident, domestic Chinese media did detailed news reports at the first available moment, quickly exposing the villainous faces of the anti-China agitators and earning good marks both domestically and overseas. These examples thoroughly demonstrate that only through accurate selection and finding the appropriate moments to report can we use news resources effectively and . . . give full play to the influence of information.
[In this section the secretary talks about the need to grasp the concept of “degree” in news reports. Even “positive propaganda,” if over-amplified, he says, can create a negative effect. He says a number of domestic Chinese media over-reported the dangers of H1N1, “not only driving a downturn in consumption of pork products, but also creating a definite degree of panic.”].
[Posted by David Bandurski, June 11, 2009, 2:17pm HK]