A notice released to Chinese media this week concerning the coronavirus outbreak suggests that in terms of information and media policy we have now entered a new phase in which propaganda authorities are making a renewed push to secure the source of information and wrestle back control of public opinion.
Over the past two weeks, as the scale of the epidemic and the attempted cover-up became clear, Chinese commercial media and “self-media” (自媒体) led the charge in reporting and commentary, and authorities found it difficult to restrain information — particularly in the face of public anger and insatiable demand. This pattern is very similar to what we saw in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the 2011 Wenzhou train collision, providing a narrow window of opportunity to more enterprising media.
That window now seems to be closing. The focus of the authorities is on controlling the source and then pushing reporting and framing by trusted Party-state media as “authoritative” information. The instructions are as follows:
Reports concerning the epidemic must take [information from] authoritative departments as the standard. Sources of articles must be strictly regulated (严格规范), independent reporting (自采) is strictly prohibited, and the use of non-regulated (非规范) article sources, particularly self-media (自媒体) is strictly prohibited. Without joint arrangements [with authorities], daring to use outside media reports is strictly prohibited. When distributing authoritative reports, the original meaning of the news must not be twisted, such as through “misleading headlines” (标题党). Pop-up means must not be used to push unregulated articles or information, unverified information and information that might have a negative influence. Do not render commentary on our global mobilization to purchase prevention and control materials, in order to avoid interference with our overseas purchasing work. Do not render commentary on the economic impact of the epidemic, resolutely preventing talk of the Chinese economy being undermined by the epidemic. On the extension of the Spring Festival holiday in various locales, do not collect [information], do not make comparisons, and do not relate this with hyping or commentary to the impact on economic development.
[Cover image by Nicolo Lazzati available at Flickr.com under CC license.]