The editorial department at the Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper is once again making waves today with a relatively moderate editorial, this time urging Party and government leaders to take a more tolerant approach toward media and information — not seeing public sentiment as the enemy.
For our comments on editorials appearing since April in the People’s Daily, please see “What’s up with the People’s Daily?“.
Readers may note that today’s editorial mentions Hu Jintao’s so-called “Four Rights” (四个权利), which Hu articulated in his report to the 17th Party Congress in 2007, but which have gotten rather cool treatment since. These are: the right to know (知情权), right to participate (参与权), right to express (表达权) and right to monitor (监督权).
In another interesting portion, the editorial twists the CCP propaganda notion of “emphasizing positive news” by quoting Henan Party secretary Lu Zhangong (卢展工), who said back in February, in reference to the Chinese concept that roughly approximates “watchdog journalism,” that “supervision by public opinion is also positive reporting.”
As can only be expected, the editorial does not diverge from the mainstream Party discourse on the press, including Hu’s “Four Rights” and his 2008 policy of “public opinion channeling” (舆论引导). But the final line about the media being “a platform through which the government and the public can have communication and exchange” is sure to raise the hackles of hardliners in the propaganda establishment, who will be quick to remind all that media in China serve the Party, period.
“Media Literacy” Reflects the Quality of Governance (“媒介素养”体现执政水平)
June 16, 2011
Public sentiment isn’t “the enemy” (敌情). Quite the contrary, the media is a warning mechanism for society. While its attention and reflection on breaking incidents and sensitive issues might cause some momentary embarrassment for local governments, taking a longer-term view this is very beneficial for the protection of rights and interests of the people and the promotion of social progress.
In a definite sense, we are living in an age of media incidents.
We open up our newspapers, send microblogs, [read] news and editorials . . . The public’s interest in society and the government is generally exercised through the platform of the media. The south China tiger affair (华南虎), the “eluding the cat” affair (躲猫猫), the “entrapment” affair (钓鱼执法), the Yihuang self-immolation case (宜黄强拆) — these symbolic events that quickly seized attention across the country on the back of media coverage, remind us that today methods and concepts of governance inevitably emerge, and are even enlarged, through the media. The age of “mediatized governance” (治理媒介化) has already arrived.
As openness and transparency gradually become the consensus in governance, as the right to know, participate, express and monitor become basic rights enjoyed by citizens, we see a steady rise in knowledge about media among governments at various levels. Our press release system is daily improving. Press spokespeople are constantly stepping out. More and more Party and government cadres maintain [online] message boards and do live interviews. More than 1,700 official government microblogs regularly issue authoritative information. Cadres and leaders at various levels are more and more confident under the spotlight. These changes are cause for joy.
Change, of course, is a process. And in the midst of overall progress, some local [governments] still show many deficiencies in dealing with the media. Or they overlook the media, seeing them as so much decoration. Those “deeply sleeping [government] websites” (沉睡网站) whose content is never replenished are a sign of feeble media consciousness [or literacy]. Or [some leaders] avoid the media, . . . exposing the absence of methods for channeling [public opinion to deal with crises]. Or some fear the media, concluding that the media are “on the hunt” (找事) and a source of trouble, and then we see such things as news bans, cover ups, prevention, pressure and hiding the truth (封, 捂, 堵, 压, 瞒). The attitude of “preventing fire, preventing theft, preventing journalists” (防火防盗防记者) is well-known. Or the media are misused, seen as a tool for covering up one’s mistakes, for misleading the public, and for making the case for the improper conduct of various local governments and offices.
If we can say that media have already entered the 2.0 era of two-way communications, then government administration too has entered the 2.0 era — from [the era of] the loudspeaker and preaching from newspapers and magazines, to [the era of] news release, online networking and interactivity. If there is not the necessary media literacy [among government officials], if [they] do not have the capacity to listen and respond, if [they] only suppress and block [media], this will without a doubt take the “inter” out of interconnectivity, leaving just a failed connection.
Public sentiment isn’t “the enemy” (敌情). Quite the contrary, the media is a warning mechanism for society. While its attention and reflection on breaking incidents and sensitive issues might cause some momentary embarrassment for local governments, but accurately and thoroughly observing public sentiment, and keeping a clear head, is greatly beneficial. Taking a longer-term view, this is very beneficial for the protection of rights and interests of the people and the promotion of social progress, just as one provincial Party secretary once said: “Supervision by public opinion is also positive reporting” (舆论监督也是正面报道).
In the face of social transition, institutional transition and transforming ideas, we need the active agenda-setting of the media, and its promotion, building of common ground and cohesion, whether this involves explaining policies, working out hostilities, exchanging ideas or building consensus. It is from this vantage point that the central Party leadership has emphasized that the media is an important resource and method in administering the nation, and that leaders and cadres at various levels must raise their capacity to deal with the media, practically achieving good treatment, good use and good management (善待, 善用, 善管) [of the media].
Leaders and cadres who are surrounded by information and the media, urgently need to make a habit of reading the news sensitivity (新闻敏感) of sudden-breaking events, and the and value judgements involved. Otherwise, if they respond slowly or intervene ineffectively, not only might [such events] “build up if they are small, and explode if they are big” (小事闹大，大事闹炸), but they might dissolve the consensus of reform and development, and erode the “intangible assets” (无形资产) of the government.
For leaders and cadres, media literacy is not just an ability but an attitude. Only with an attitude of equality can the arrogance of “Do you speak for the Party or for the people?” be avoided [NOTE: This refers to a 2009 case in which the vice-mayor of a city in Henan angrily posed this question to a journalist]. Only with an attitude of respect can the arrogance of “I don’t have time to chat with you” be avoided. Only with an attitude of openness can we look problems directly in the face rather than making “journalist blacklists” [NOTE: This is a reference to plans recently announced by China’s Ministry of Health for a blacklist]. Only with an attitude of candor can we greet criticism with self-examination rather than launching back with accusations of slander . . .
Ultimately, the media are a platform through which the government and the public can have communication and exchange. One’s attitude toward the media is also one’s attitude toward the public. This is a basic reflection and test of one’s administrative concepts and abilities.