By David BandurskiLast week at CMP, we began our countdown to the one-year anniversary of President Hu Jintao’s bold re-working of China’s media control and propaganda system with a speech by Jiangxi’s top party leader, Su Rong. This week we turn to another article in official party media that helps to clarify Hu’s much misunderstood policy, which combines traditional media controls with the active “channeling” of public opinion.
The article, “International Commentary in the Context of Globalization: Forestalling Opponents by a Show of Strength, Actively Channeling [Public Opinion]” (全球化背景下的国际评论:先声夺人主动引导), appears in the most recent issue of China Journalist (中国记者), a key official journal dealing with press policy.
The authors are Chen Hegao (陈鹤高) and Qi Zijian (齐紫剑), both journalists with China’s official Xinhua News Agency.
Chen and Qi give readers an inside picture of how changes in style and outlook at Chinese state media are linked directly to Hu Jintao’s press policy — and DO NOT necessarily signal more openness or the breaking of taboos.
They describe their task as commentary writers for Xinhua’s new international commentary section in the context of a global struggle for public opinion pitting China against the West. They talk about the need to serve the party and adhere to “correct guidance of public opinion,” and at the same about the need to “take into account the varying value judgements” of both foreign and domestic audiences in order to achieve the greatest impact.
Chen and Qi clearly spell out the policy of targeting propaganda products for different audiences, with differing standards and approaches for Chinese and foreign readers.
A partial translation of the China Journalist piece follows. It should perhaps be taken as a reference next time Xinhua, China Daily or the English edition of the Global Times surprise us with ostensibly “open” coverage:

In 2008, a series of major events happened internationally, and in the complex international struggle for public opinion, Xinhua News Agency pioneered its “Xinhua International Commentary” section (新华国际时评). Over the past year, “Xinhua International Commentary” has offered timely and in-depth commentary on major international events and matters that touch on our interests, and it has wielded rather substantial influence.
Experience has shown that the strengthening of international commentary work at Xinhua News Agency has been extremely critical in facing a complex international public opinion environment, increasing the influence of international news reports and gradually reversing the state of a “strong West and a weak China” in the international competition for public opinion.
The Need for Channeling, Influencing Public Opinion
Wide-reaching and radical changes are now happening in our world, and the public opinion environments at home and overseas are incredibly complex. On the one hand, along with China’s development and strengthening and its growing position internationally, China has an ever greater influence and function in international affairs, and the international community urgently hopes to have a timely grasp and understanding of China’s policy positions on a range of major international questions. On the other hand, hostile forces in the West have never turned from their conspiracies to “Westernize” and divide China. A number of Western media have added fuel to the fire, ramping up negative reports about Chinese issues with the intent of blackening China’s image.
Facing the complex public opinion environment arising from these new circumstances, Xinhua News Agency must further strengthen its international commentary work, planning and arranging [commentary on] general [strategic] interests both domestically and internationally, actively reflecting the policy position of our national government on major international political, economic and social issues and other issues of urgency.
Over and against negative public opinion in the West that twists China’s image, we must express our viewpoints in a timely manner, setting the facts straight and refuting fallacies in order to ensure a right understanding of the facts. We must enhance correct channeling of public opinion domestically, and actively influence the directedness and effectiveness of international public opinion [in China’s interests].
[The writers say Xinhua News Agency commentaries have generally speaking had a strong impact over recent decades.]
Since the “Xinhua International Commentary” section was launched in 2008, we have focused on general [strategic] interests both domestically and internationally, actively sought avenues for continued development, and worked hard to achieve [at least] one commentary per day, putting out Xinhua News Agency’s voice on major questions, expressing China’s viewpoint, keeping hard to the inside track of the public opinion struggle, using our discourse power (话语权) effectively on critical international questions.
The “Xinhua International Commentary” section has released more than 100 editorials [since its launch], including on the March 14, 2008, riots in Lhasa, the international leg of the Olympic torch relay, the Wenchuan earthquake, the Beijing Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, the American financial crisis and on international issus making the headlines. Some of these editorials have been released with foreign language translations, or even written directly in foreign languages. Some of these commentaries have clarified the facts, denouncing such fallacies as support for “Tibetan independence.” Some commentaries extolled the spirit of international humanitarianism and the spirit of the Olympic Games. Others set forth our country’s policy positions on important international issues. These international commentaries were widely used by media both domestically and internationally, so that the influence of international reports from Xinhua News Agency
is further expanding.
This year, the “Xinhua International Commentary” section has further strengthened the intensity of its commentary, expressing China’s position in a timely and accurate manner on major international incidents, and incidents concerning China’s interests.
At noon, Beijing time, February 14, 2009, the U.S. Congress passed a 787 billion dollar economic stimulus plan, which included a “Buy America” clause that smacked clearly of trade protectionism. This [clause] posed a serious challenge to pushing the global economy out of the doldrums as early as possible, and it also would have had a profoundly negative impact on developing nations. That night, our editorial desk [at Xinhua News Agency] released [a commentary called], “Trade Protectionism is ‘Toxic’ as We Face the Financial Crisis.” The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse made substantial and objective use of the commentary, and re-printings and references appeared also in the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Steet Journal, England’s Guardian newspaper, the Financial Times, on the BBC website, and in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
When an international controversy raged over the auctioning off of treasures stolen from the Summer Palace [in Beijing], our editorial desk released, “It is Sad and Absurd to Hold Cultural Artifacts Ransom for ‘Human Rights’!” (用“人权”绑架文物,荒唐、可悲!). The commentary was used by 96 media domestically. When the U.S. House of Representatives and the European Parliament passed resolutions on the Tibet issue, [Xinhua] immediately released several commentaries expressing China’s standpoint, including “Tibet Resolutions Confuse Black and White,” and “A Portion of European Parliament Reps Suffer from Amnesia and Ignorance.”
Principles in Strengthening the Work of International Commentary
Modern China’s relationship with the world is now going through historic changes. Under the influence of economic globalization in particular, China’s hot-button issues and the world’s are now mutual and interwoven. Editorial staffers dealing with international news must broaden their vision and expand their range of criticism, seizing on critical domestic issues on which international public opinion is focused, and writing relevant commentaries [on these issues, from China’s own standpoint]. With the correct lines, principles and policies of the Communist Party and the policy positions of the government as the guide, we must deploy international commentaries on major emerging international incidents, critical issues, and matters touching on China. We must make rapid and timely responses to meet negative public opinion in the West that misrepresents China, as suits the needs of our nation’s major foreign relations struggles.
1. International commentary must strictly uphold correct guidance of public opinion
Taking a clear stand [for the party] in commentaries is the most direct form and method for correctly channeling domestic opinion and effectively influencing international public opinion.
Even though our international commentaries are not equivalent to statements or policy declarations from the government on key questions, the spirit of our ideas as they emerge in our reports on major international questions and problems concerning China must remain entirely consonant with the spirit of the CCP Central Committee and the policy positions of the government.
When writing international commentaries, editorial personnel must put correct guidance of public opinion first throughout, making no deviation whatsoever. In order to accomplish this, editorial personnel must earnestly study the spirit of the 17th Party Congress, they must earnestly study the language of party and national leaders on the domestic and international situation and key questions . . .
[Personnel should study party work reports, dialogues with foreign ministry spokespeople, etc.] . . . From this, they must strengthen their political sensitivity and power of dicrimination, maintaining proper control of their commentary writing on important, sensitive and current issues, ensuring international commentaries uphold correct guidance of public opinion.
2. International commentaries must prioritize timeliness, speaking with an authoritive voice as soon as possible on major international questions and critical issues.
International news personnel must grasp the initiative in the international struggle for public opinion (把握国际舆论斗争的主动权) on major international questions and critical issues, forestalling their opponents by a show of strength (先声夺人). China is a responsible and influential nation in the world. After major international incidents occur, the international community looks especially to reports from China’s national newswires and other central-level media in order to understand the policy position of the Chinese government. This presents the finest opportunity for Xinhua News Agency’s international commentary section to exert its influence, and this [opportunity] must be used to full effect . . . When sudden-breaking news events occur, we must do our utmost to ensure relevant commentaries are out within 24 hours, so that Xinhua News Agency’s voice can be heard on all on major international questions and critical issues.
3. Commentaries must be written according to various audiences, with differentiation between domestic and outside (内外有别).
Our audience for international commentaries consists mostly of foreigners. Whether we are describing our [country’s] policy position on major events or questions, or refuting certain incorrect trends of thought or opinion internationally, we must take into account the varying value judgements, political attitudes, religious beliefs, modes of thinking and reading habits of domestic and foreign audiences when we write international commentaries, being artful and strategic in our commentary writing. We must be objective, truthful and clever in expressing our viewpoints, making our reports as convincing as possible. Against negative public opinion in the West, and against the slander and personal attacks from anti-Chinese forces internationally, we must argue our case well, convincing others by our reasoning. Particularly, we must use news facts and news background that are accurate, not giving any cause to find fault.
Facing different incidents and problems, facing different audiences domestically and overseas, we can utilize different styles of commentary writing, raising the level of intimacy, attraction and vitality [of content for various target readers].
There is no demand that international commentary “speak with a rigid face” [NOTE: this is a reference to the stiffness that prevails generally in party politics in China]. Rather, we need to work hard to speak the essentials, make our topic clear, keep our logic tight and be lively and engaging . . .
[Talks briefly about the effectiveness of engaging and personal stories in addressing the international uproar during the international leg of the Olympic torch relay, and following the Sichuan earthquake.]
Changing and Renewing the Mindset of International Commentary Work
The reform of international commentary is faced with a complex public opinion environment, and international commentary work at Xinhua News Agency must be reformed and renewed. As we write international commentaries we must strictly adhere to correct guidance of public opinion, we must enhance the intimacy, attraction and vitality [of our commentaries], and we must at the same time strengthen the aim and actual effect of public opinion channeling . . .
How do we resolve the difficulty of maintaining [a party] tone in writing international commentary? Ensuring that international commentaries at Xinhua News Agency abide by correct guidance of public opinion involves at least the following aspects:
Maintaining consonance with the standpoint of the party and government; The ability to adequately handle the relationship between the news and foreign relations, actively accommodating our [nation’s] foreign relations work, in order to benefit the projection of a peaceful, cooperative, open and progressive international image; The ability to observe, understand and explain world affairs according to a Marxist world view and methodology, helping the audience achieve a correct understanding and vision of deep and complex changes in the world; The [current official] saying, “Help, don’t add to the chaos” (帮忙而不添乱) is the most basic expectation of international commentary work. The principal reason for the poor grasp of some international commentaries is the failure to maintain tonal consonance with our [nation’s] policy positions, [the failure to] adequately abide by correct guidance [of public opinion] . . .
Critical to strengthening international commentary work is the building of international commentary teams that are devoted to their work and are politically alert [to party policies and propaganda discipline].

[Posted by David Bandurski, June 15, 2009, 10:58pm HK]

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David Bandurski

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