On July 12, the All-China Journalists Association (ACJA), the government-led official organization for media workers in the country, announced its preliminary selections for the 32nd annual China Press Awards (中国新闻奖), which it advertises as China’s “highest award for outstanding national journalism.”
Under China’s press system, which in recent years has redoubled its emphasis on the Marxist View of Journalism, putting the China Communist Party and its interests at the center of journalism, what exactly does the ACJA mean by “outstanding”?
The current China Press Awards are the first to apply new criteria since the ACJA revised its selection methods back in June. The awards now focus on 20 categories rather than the previous 29. Most crucial, however, are the “Award Goals,” given as follows:
The China Press Awards adhere to the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, adhere to the correct political direction, [correct] public opinion guidance, and [the correct] value orientation, and they have a role in demonstration and leadership for excellent journalistic works . . . .
Excellence, in other words, is conditional on compliance. To be considered, journalistic works must abide by Xi Jinping’s call for media to “love the Party, protect the Party and serve the Party.” They must adhere to the principle of “public opinion guidance,” the notion linking press control and political stability that dates back to the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 1989.
The “Award Goals” also specify that works should serve to “enhance the ‘Four Consciousnesses,’ firm up the ‘Four Confidences’ and achieve the ‘Two Protections.’” These are phrases, known collectively as the “442 formula,” that explicitly denote Xi’s power and dominance.
Excellent journalism, in this context, is all about Xi Jinping. And so the China Press Awards jury can assert all at once, without the least sense of contradiction, that the works under consideration are “of high quality” (质量水平高) and that they “focus on the important conference activities and speeches of General Secretary Xi Jinping, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP, and the study and education of Party history.”
While the ACJA has said that it encourages submissions from media organizations “with news gathering and editing business qualifications” at all levels, from the central down to local, and from both print and digital media, it is revealing to note that none of the entries selected from the first round are from commercial media with more professional ambitions – the likes of Caixin, or the 21st Century Business Herald.
The China Press Awards recognize the best in compliance with the CCP’s demands for journalism in Xi’s New Era, during which the leadership has explicitly rejected notions of more independent media activity as “the West’s idea of journalism.”
The awards actually have their origin in the so-called “On the Scene Short News” (现场短新闻) competition, launched in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. As the leadership focused on the disobedience of the press in the spring of that year as a key cause of political unrest, they sought to uphold a view of journalism that was at once obedient and suited to the spirit of the reform era. Announcing a full awards program in June 1990 on the back of the short news competition the previous year, Politburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan (李瑞环) stressed the need to “adhere to a focus on positive propaganda,” but emphasized at the same time the need for readability.