In a meeting with local media on May 20, Sun Shaocheng (孙绍骋), the Party secretary of Inner Mongolia, emphasized that the news media are the mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party – and that they must “speak politics” and uphold “correct guidance of public opinion.”
But in a rare caution against the overuse of Party jargon and sloganeering, Sun also urged media to “change [their] style of writing” (改文风), achieving in practice the goal of “brevity, truth and novelty” (短, 实, 新). “The shorter the reports on my activities, the better,” Sun said. “Letting people know what was done is enough, then more space can be left for the people.”
“Speak the truth, and speak of real things that truly reflect the situation at the grassroots level,” Sun said. “Don’t bother saying those words that even you yourself do not believe.”
These remarks from Sun, who formerly served as deputy governor of Shandong province, are an interesting reflection of the challenges facing Party-state media as they try on the one hand to maintain loyalty to the CCP and to Xi Jinping – loyalty often signaled through dense official-speak – and on the other hand strive to remain relevant to increasingly savvy news consumers.
This is by no means a new issue. From the “news reform” (新闻改革) of the early 1980s, when media sought to throw off the “falsehood, bluster and emptiness” (假大空) of the press during the Cultural Revolution, to the commercialization drive of the 1990s and the “Three Closenesses” of the early 2000s, CCP leaders have sought to have their control and their development too — what could be called “bounded innovation.”
These innovations have always to a great extent been held back by the internal bureaucracy of the Party-led media, and by the imperative of public opinion controls. Officials, like Sun, have spoken periodically over the years about the need to simplify media reporting, or to cut down on dense and alienating rhetoric. But the inescapable fact is that news media in China are tethered like moons to the planet of Party-speak (提法) and its irresistible pull.