In perhaps the clearest sign yet of the emphasis the Chinese Communist Party places on digital development, and on control of its social and political implications, all seven members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) attended a high-level meeting in Beijing on media convergence in the digital age on January 25.
The session, led by President Xi Jinping, included a visit to the official People’s Daily, where PSC members “heard reports on the development of the newspaper’s Weibo accounts, WeChat public accounts and apps, and viewed demonstrations on new media products.” This was Xi Jinping’s second formal visit to the Party’s flagship newspaper, following a February 2016 visit in which he outlined stricter controls on China’s media, stressing that media must “love the Party, protect the Party and serve the Party.”
But the focus at this session was on leveraging the digital transformation of the media space, both in China and globally, to consolidate the Party dominance Xi underscored three years ago. The crux was the need — as the traditional print vehicles of Party fade into obsolescence — to remake the entire state-dominated media system, creating a whole new generation of digital products by which the leadership can dominate the ideological sphere. “[Promoting] the development of media convergence and building convergence media has become a pressing task facing us,” Xi said.
Xi defined the task as “building up mainstream public opinion” (主流舆论) — mainstream referring, in the context of Chinese political discourse, to the defined priorities of the Party itself, and not simply to prevailing currents of thought.
[We] must utilise the fruits of the information revolution to promote deep development of convergence media, building up mainstream public opinion and consolidating common ideological foundation which underpins the concerted efforts of the entire Party and all the Chinese people, providing a strong spiritual force and public opinion support for the realisation of the ‘two centennial goals’ and the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.
Xi Jinping and his fellow PSC members visited the “HUB,” referred to in Chinese as the “central kitchen” (中央厨房), essentially a production center at the People’s Daily for multimedia content, including videos and visualizations, that can be shared across various digital distribution channels.
A report from Xinhua News Agency back in February 2017 described the HUB as “a new generation system for content production, broadcast and operation that is audience-facing, global-facing and future-facing, not only serving various media under the People’s Daily banner but also building for the entire media industry a public platform that supports production of quality content.”
Such a centralized content production strategy for an otherwise decentralised digital media landscape naturally benefits the objective of “building up mainstream public opinion.”
In his speech, Xi Jinping emphasized that Party newspapers, periodicals, broadcast stations, websites “and other mainstream media must catch up with the times, bravely utilizing new technologies, new mechanisms and new modes, accelerating the pace of convergence and achieving more expansive and optimized propaganda results.”
That this should happen under strict political controls was of course a given: “[We] must with a clear banner adhere to the correct political direction, to [correct] guidance of public opinion, and [a correct] value orientation, ensuring that there is a clear elevation of the quality and level of positive propaganda through the innovation of concepts, content, styles, forms and methods.”