By David Bandurski — We wrote recently at CMP about how Xinhua News Agency is leading the charge as Chinese media go global. And we argued that this global push can be seen both as a commercial venture and as the international dimension of what we have termed “Control 2.0,” the CCP’s effort to improve “channeling” of what it calls “global public opinion.”
Today we offer as part of our expanding dossier of translations on Hu Jintao’s re-working of media policy, or “Control 2.0,” a portion of a piece from the most recent issue of the official media journal China Journalist dealing with changes at provincial-level television stations in China.
The article is written by Ma Laishun (马来顺), vice-chairman at the official Hebei Television and head of the station’s News Center. It offers an informative look at how local television stations are responding to Hu Jintao’s mandate to achieve more effective “public opinion channeling” — that is, staying on top of news and issues with a mind to more effectively managing and influencing them in the topsy turvy new media age.
Since Hu Jintao’s important speech on media policy on June 20, 2008, “public opinion channeling,” or yulun jindao (舆论引导), has joined the ranks of top CCP news and propaganda buzzwords. It is now an important complement to “guidance of public opinion,” or yulun daoxiang (舆论导向), which encompasses the notion of media control and censorship as a core priority of the CCP.
“Public opinion channeling” seems to encompass an ambitious nationwide project to re-package and modernize propaganda. The piece below refers explicitly to “all-around packaging” and “branding” even as it emphasizes serving the interests of party superiors.
It is crucial to understand that this modernization project seeks to take the boring and the boilerplate out of propaganda, not the propaganda out of news. The emphasis on discipline and the party line is still there. But there is a recognition too that traditional media control tactics, while still crucial, are no longer as effective in the age of modern communications.
So to all of you phoning to ask whether the Internet has made a difference. Yes. Of course. But be careful how you understand that change.
Chinese media are changing. And so are controls.
Interestingly, the China Journalist piece also gives us a glimpse into how major Chinese media corporations, like Shanghai’s SMG Group and China Central Television, are supporting the media modernization drive at home.
Technology upgrades and personnel training to improve “public opinion channeling” are now evidently big business for big players like SMG and CCTV.
Employing Innovation to Raise the Level of Public Opinion Channeling in Television
By Ma Laishun (马来顺)
Innovation is the inexhaustible motivating force of news and propaganda work, and is most critical in constantly increasing our capacity for public opinion channeling.
1. The concept of innovation, breaking through intellectual bottlenecks that inhibit our ability to raise our capacity for public opinion channeling
Since the end of last year, the News Center of Hebei Television has engaged in a “grand discussion of thought liberation” concerning the topic of “raising capacity for channeling of news and public opinion,” the objective being to transition everyone [involved in news production and control] from a “passive style” (被动式) of traditional thinking about communication concepts to an “active mode” (主动型) of modern communication concepts.
One issue is moving from “by the book application of rules” (照本背书) to active transmission [of information]. On December 15, 2008, we had the first direct links across the straits [between mainland China and Taiwan]. According to established protocol, provincial-level television stations would not have done timely reporting for this sort of news story of national importance. We felt, however, that giving this story adequate attention benefited the strengthening of Hebei’s dialogue and cooperation [with Taiwan] in economic, cultural and other terms, that this case had extraordinary importance and value.
So on that day “Hebei Headline News” (河北新闻联播) [the official newscast of top provincial leaders] did its own prominent report on this story, all at once satisfying the demands of television viewers, reenforcing Hebei’s uniqueness and diving due attention at the provincial level to a story of national importance. The results were very satisfactory.
Second, we need to move from simple “defense of one’s territory” (守土) to more active channeling [of information on breaking local news stories].
Along with the rapid expansion of new communication technologies, the field of public opinion (社会舆论场) has become more diversified. As a mainstream medium [of the party], television, if it wishes to maintain the “home field advantage” (成为新闻舆论的“主场”) in news and public opinion, cannot rely solely on “protection” (守土) and “defense” (防御), but must instead actively channel [public opinion] with the mainstream voice of the party and government. Only then can it gain the upper hand (主导权) in public opinion.
At the beginning of this year, as the international financial crisis was making waves, voices of “decay” (衰) the domestic and overseas media were heard constantly. A problem of confidence emerged in the public opinion sphere.
Faced with this [mood] of public opinion, in accordance with the policy spirit of “confidence is more precious than gold” conveyed by the central and provincial leadership, we gathered our strength and released a series of reports called “Confidence ’09” speaking of the rosy prospects of modern industry development in Hebei. With timeliness and strength, [these reports] restored the confidence of cadres and the people in our province.
Third, we must move from “standardized broadcasting” (本位传播) [NOTE: a reference to the drab, boilerplate official news coverage of the past, and present] to actively serving [the public]. We must respect “audience demand” and adhere to a popular orientation [in news coverage], actively seeking closeness [to viewers], channeling while providing service, providing better service while channeling [public opinion].
After H1N1 spread through Latin America, “Hebei Headline News” broadcast related stories in its morning, noon and evening editions, inviting experts to introduce the causes of infection and methods of prevention.
When the first homegrown case of H1N1 infection was discovered in Cangzhou, we reported news about the patient’s treatment and recovery at the first available moment and sought information about those who had been closely associated with the patient. In this way, we effectively stabilized the public mood.
2. Innovating content, steadily enhancing the focus (针对性) and (实效性) effectiveness of news and public opinion channeling
Innovation at the level of news content is core to raising our capacity for news and public opinion channeling. This means we must improve the focus and effectiveness of public opinion channeling.
First, we must adhere to a pulling together of our own news media focal points and the work impetus [and objectives] of the CCP, taking the promotion of scientific development as our first responsibility as a news media.
This year . . . [a whole series of programs and segments at Hebei Television] . . . have favorably brought out and represented new bright points in Hebei’s scientific development over the past year.
Second, we must adhere [in our work] to a pulling together of responsibility toward our [party] superiors above and toward our audiences below, serving as bridges and bonds between party and government leaders and the general public. In order to support this year’s “Year of Cadre Work Character Improvement” movement, we introduced large-scale series of interview programs in April . . . [Examples provided of programs, mostly interviews with local leaders] . . . The programs were interactive, creating a platform through which key leaders from various cities [in Hebei] could interact face-to-face with people at the grassroots . . . .
[The third point is about the need to improve social character by reporting on exemplars of good behavior, and the need to improve supervision by public opinion.]
3. Innovating methods, working hard to raise the attractiveness and infectiveness of public opinion channeling
In recent years, the News Center at Hebei Television has worked hard to break through old modes of news reporting, innovating program production methods, reforming operation processes for program production, and improving production resources for programming. [We have seen, as a result] a steady improvement in the attractiveness and infectiveness of public opinion channeling. Ratings for “Hebei Headline News” have gone up dramatically, and was listed in the top-20 for all programs on all channels in the Shijiazhuang area.
First, [we must work toward] particularizing the characteristics and positioning [of various programs] (特色化定位). [NOTE: perhaps this would be best translated as “branding and positioning”]. The branding and positioning (特色化) of news broadcasting means breaking through formalistic molds and abandoning attempts at program uniformity. We need to work creatively to generate programs with different content, of different types, with different styles, making them more personalized, more unique, with stronger branding (品牌化) . . .
[Skipping through the second, third and fourth points here. The fourth is about making programs that are “close” to the people, an invocation of Hu Jintao’s policy of the Three Closenesses.]
Fifth, we need to stress packaging [of information] in the round. In order to enhance the attractiveness and infectiveness of news programs, we must carry out an all-round, all-directional process of packaging of columns and programs.
Investing around 2.5 million yuan, we updated the sets of “Hebei Network News” and several other programs, replacing them with more modern, serious and lively electronic sets. We also reworked the opening themes for a number of programs, bringing them more in line with the unique positioning of these programs. We placed greater emphasis on the post-production process for programs, carefully handling cuts and transitions, adding explanations, voice-overs and dubbing sound so we could achieve the most optimal visual effect and draw viewers into the programs.
In addition, we spent 20 million yuan to install an advanced broadcast system from Shanghai’s SMG Group, carrying out a comprehensive digital upgrade of studio equipment for our news center employing state-of-the-art broadcast equipment and improving the broadcast quality of news programs.
4. Innovating [work and production] systems, stimulating news teams to produce great content, improving public opinion channeling to make it more active and innovative.
In recent years, the News Center at Hebei Television has worked hard to grab hold of the reins in carrying out system reforms, systematically building up its mechanisms for management and operations . . .
[Posted by David Bandurski, November 4, 2009, 2:17pm HK]