The Marxist View of Journalism 马克思主义新闻观

In the two years prior to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), China’s media were busy complying with a 2001 Propaganda Bureau edict demanding they “offer programs for training [of media professionals] in the Marxist view of journalism.” Even after SARS, they continued to hold training sessions to educate professionals in the “three programs,” which included training in Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents”, the “Marxist view of journalism” and “professional spirit and ethics.”
The Marxist aspect of the aforementioned trinity of training-courses comprised studies of the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin on the topic of the press, and selections highlighted the following key issues:
1. Supporting Party principles. “The Party publications are weapons of Party, and as such they must set forth the political creeds of the Party, and advance holding high the flag of the Party” (Marx/Engels). The Party’s papers are “publications of the Party,” they are “its gears and its screws.” (Lenin). In April 1942, Mao supervised the makeover of Yan’an’s Liberation Daily and defined Party “spirit”, or character, as the foremost of its four attributes. (Mao Zedong). On January 29, 1981, the Party said in its “Current Propaganda Regulations for Print and Broadcast Media”: “Professionals in publishing, news, radio and television must uphold the spirirt of the Communist Party.” “Party newspapers and periodicals must be sure to publicize the opinions of the Party without condition” (Deng Xiaoping). “Journalism must uphold Party principles” (Jiang Zemin).
2. Criticizing the “bourgeois concept of free speech.” Lenin once said that “absolute freedom” (绝对的自由) and “pure democracy” (纯粹的民主) do not exist. Lenin essentially believed the bourgeoisie concept of free press meant only the wealthy could publish newspapers, and amounted to a capitalist monopoly on the press. Therefore, Lenin advocated the overthrow of bourgeois press freedoms, saying that by doing so they could destroy a key ideological weapon of the enemy. Years later, Jiang Zemin said, “freedom of speech required rigorous class analysis”. Jiang believed hostile forces overseas and domestic proponents of press freedom were leveraging the concept as a means of “peaceful” resistance to Party rule. In order to safeguard the interests of the people, China must not only limit press freedom, but must, in accordance with the law, crack down on all designs to transform the socialist system through journalism.
3. Maintaining correct “guidance of public opinion”. This is the idea that media must walk the Party line, and is a vital component of prior censorship in China that requires editors and reporters to be obedient servants of the Party leadership. “We do not want intellectuals running newspapers, but rather politicians” (Mao Zedong). “Newspapers must become centers of stability and solidarity” (Deng Xiaoping). “[We must] grasp correct guidance of public opinion” (Jiang Zemin).

Paid-for News 有偿新闻

This is one among a litany of terms relating to ethical abuses in Chinese media. It has never been clearly defined, but can be generally understood as the practice of releasing information in the form of a news report in return for gains personally or for one’s media organization [definition at Modern Broadcasting website].
Some sources trace the phenomenon to an early column in Shanghai’s Wenhui Bao into which “news” was routinely sold. At that time reporters called such exchanges of news for cash “food coupon news” (饭票新闻).
An article on identifies six forms of paid-for news, as follows:
1. Receiving money or other forms of benefit in exchange for news coverage;
2. Doing news coverage in exchange for advertising or circulation benefitss or sponsorship;
3. Forcing money or other forms of personal or institutional benefit by threatening negative news coverage (“news extortion”).
4. Media editors or bosses demanding their subordinates play a role in revenue creation, thus blurring the line between business and editorial;
5. Exchanging news with other media or journalists for payment or other benefit;
6. Public relations companies doing so-called “news reporting” on behalf of their clients and paying for space or airtime.
Forms of paid-for news, however, are constantly evolving. One article by People’s Daily described how some journalists work mention of so-called “clients” (those who have paid them for coverage) into stories in an indirect way, for example when addressing more general topics.

Emphasizing positive news 正面报导为主

“Emphasizing positive news” has been a guiding principle of China’s Central Propaganda Department (中宣部) since at least 1984. At a February 1995 conference of editors in chief of provincial-level newspapers, propaganda minister Ding Guangen said: “By supporting unity and stability, emphasizing positive news and speaking with one voice, we have achieved success in setting examples, leading and encouraging [the people] (People’s Daily, February 27, 1995). Ji Bingxuan, a deputy propaganda minister, said: “The relationship between positive and negative news must be well-managed. We must always support the guiding principle, which is to encourage unity and stability by emphasizing positive news. This principle must be followed with news reports … China is so vast and diverse, its development so unequal. While some areas are advanced, others lag far behind. Our country’s social development is fraught with contradiction, and problems appear often in many places. Suppose problems arise in each of our more than 2,800 counties. How those problems are viewed, and how they are reported – that is a question that must be treated correctly … The influence of propaganda is extensive. Failing to carefully analyze [content], or allowing negative reports to become too numerous or careless, results not only an incomplete picture of events but misleads the public, who begin to imagine problems are piling up. Such a slide in social morale negatively impacts social stability, the consequences of which may be incalculable” (See”新闻宣传要把好关把好度”, Press Frontline (新闻战线), March 2004.)

Fake News 虚假新闻

By some Chinese accounts, “fake news”, or xujia xinwen, has plagued news media in China since at least the Cultural Revolution, at which time media fabricated news to suit the political purposes of the Gang of Four. It is an extremely fuzzy term, and obviously, while it may be used by Chinese officialdom in campaigns against news regarded as unprofessional (or against party directives), could in its broadest sense (though not the official one) overlap with party propaganda itself.
When looking at fake news in mainland China, one of the toughest challenges is to separate genuine calls for professionalism from moves to control news unfavorable to the party. Over the last two decades, as economic reforms have moved ahead, the problem of fake news has certainly grown more serious. Many officials and academics point to the commercialization of media industry and intensified market competition as root causes – the need for a political reform and a more independent role for journalism as a “profession” is not addressed openly.
In June 2005, the Central Propaganda Department held a forum to discuss the issue. Reading between the lines, their definition of “fake news” predictably includes that which falls outside the purview of state news control, or “guidance of public opinion” (舆论导向). They mention the following tendencies in fake news: (1) more fake news is being outright fabricated, using flights of the imagination rather than real news materials; (2) more news is being exaggerated by media to generate public buzz; (3) there is more fake foreign news (including that generated by domestic journalists and that taken from foreign news sources); (4) non-journalists from different fields of the society are participating in the “creation of news”; (5) some well-known “mainstream” media also taking part in the creation and distribution of fake news; (6) the Internet is amplifying the influence and reach of fake news.
Writing in late 2005, one propaganda official for a local News Commentary Group (阅评组) in China addressed fake news and its causes: (1) journalists do not do work hard enough to verify the reliability of information in their stories; (2) journalists interpret stories in such a way as to exaggerate their importance (in other words, sensationalize them); (3) editors and reporters, knowing there are factual problems, modify problematic portions in such a way as to push the report through, circumventing controls; (4) some journalists lack the common sense necessary to distinguish true from false; (5) management practices are poor (by publication officials, top editors, etc) and there are no methods in place to ensure investigative reports conducted in areas outside the publication’s home turf are checked for accuracy. Beginning in 2001, The Journalist Monthly (新闻记者), a magazine on news media published by the Shanghai Academy for Social Sciences, began publishing an annual listed of “Top Ten Fake News”. Results from 2001 to 2005 are available on the publication’s website, or here through Xinhua News Agency.
[Posted by Brian Chan, May 11, 2006, 12:30pm]

The Four Unchangeables 党管媒体4不变

The “Four Unchangeables” is the buzzword for the central policy affirming the Communist Party’s control of the media under the rapid acceleration of commercialization and structural reforms. It can be seen as a policy cousin of Hu Jintao’s “Three Closenesses” (2002), which called for media to become more relevant to people’s lives (essentially, through commercialization) and “enlarging and strengthening”, which was about the creation of Chinese media groups fit to compete with international media groups like News Corp and Yahoo!. [See People’s Daily Online section on “multi-media groups”]. [More English-Chinese coverage of media conglomeration here]. The first articulation of the “Four Unchangeables” came on May 29, 2001, as Beijing All Media and Culture Group was officially launched in China’s capital. The opening ceremony was attended by media-minder big wigs like Propaganda Department vice-minister and SARFT head Xu Guangchun (徐光春), State Council Information Office head Li Bing (李冰), and top Beijing city officials. Representing Beijing’s Party committee and the city government, vice-secretary Long Xinmin (龙新民) said that under any conditions whatsoever, “the Party’s control of the media would not change (党管媒体不能变), the Party’s control of top media personnel would not change (党管干部不能变), the Party’s control over the ideological direction of media would not change (党管导向不能变), and the Party’s control over the asset structure of the media would not change (党管资产不能变)”. From this point on, most official reports about media consolidation, the formation of “news groups” etc., came hand-in-hand with mention of the “Four Unchangeables”.
In 2004, some mainland media reported a relaxing of restrictions on the operation of newspapers in China after Chongqing’s IT Home Publishing (电脑报社) and Zhong Ke Pu Media (重庆中科普传媒) teamed up with Hong Kong’s Tom Group. An official from the General Administration of Press and Publications, the media minders for publishing, stepped up to end the speculation and clarify exactly what the deal meant: “IT Home Publishing’s joint-venture (合资公司) is responsible only for the business side”, the official said. In other words, the Party would maintain tight controls over content – a clenched fist for politics and ideology, an open hand for business interests. In fact, the GAPP official said, IT Home was one of eight newspapers that had been designated by the Communist Party as an experiment in reform (by which they meant commercialization). The paper would be transformed from a “government-sponsored institution” (事业单位) to an “enterprise”. And this was not, as some media had reported, “the first news publishing joint-venture enterprise to be approved by GAPP since 1949”, officials said. The first such venture had in fact been the 2002 alliance between People’s Daily and Hong Kong’s Sing Tao News Corporation Limited (the publisher of Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily and The Standard. At the time, GAPP officials said total investment in this venture was 250 million yuan (US$31 million), with People’s Daily holding a 51 percent stake. [Company’s Website here, includes introduction touting the link-up as an illustration of China’s opening of its media to the “outside” following WTO entry. Its business scope is limited to retail distribution]
According to officials, the eight “newspapers” slated for commercial reforms included four newspaper groups and four newspapers. These were: Henan Daily Group, Xinhua Daily Group, Dazhong Daily Group (大众日报), Shenzhen Daily Group (深圳日报), IT Home (电脑报), China Securities News (中国证券报), Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报) and Jin Wan Bao (今晚报). Then, as might be expected, came the “Four Unchangeables”. The GAPP official said: “These eight experiments in cooperation and restructuring have one thing in common, and that is that they are limited [in their cooperation] to the realm of business (经营领域). They are entrusted with business operations. They do not have the right to publish (出版权) or media proprietorship (媒体所有权). The right to publish and media proprietorship are exclusive rights of the newspaper’s sponsoring institution (主管单位).”
The GAPP official emphasized that the premise of restructuring [in the media] was to differentiate media and carry out reforms to the business side of newspaper groups. “But no matter how they are reformed”, he said, “the Party’s control of the media would not change, the Party’s control of top media personnel would not change, the Party’s control over the ideological direction of media would not change, and the Party’s control over the asset structure of the media would not change”.
[Posted by David Bandurski, May 22, 2006, 5:08pm]

The Good of Society Before All Else 社会效益第一

In the 1990s, as China’s media moved steadily into the marketplace, the Propaganda Bureau issued its “key principle” of “placing the good of society before all else, and working diligently to bring about the unification of social and economic benefits.” The new principle emphasized the following:
1. Under the conditions of the market economy, cultural products [media, film, the arts] are commodities, but commodities of a special nature. Media professionals must seriously and earnestly consider the social implications of their own work.
2. Under the conditions of the market economy, economic benefit must be emphasized in the creation of cultural and non-material products, and trends must be prevented that do not work toward economic development or promote economic benefits; Neither must [media] products lose sight of the social good through the self-interested pursuit of “saleability” in the marketplace.
3. For those news media important to the Party and the nation, the nation shall continue to provide financial and policy support.
(See “The Marxist View of Journalism and the Guiding Principles of Party Journalism,” in News Line, May 2004)

Three Closenesses 三贴近

At the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in 2002, Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) was appointed General Secretary. Li Changchun (李长春) became the Standing Committee member tasked with coordinating propaganda and ideology. In China, where ideological formulations are of supreme importance, the new leadership under Hu Jintao needed a concise formula to deliver their policy on media control.

The result was the “Three Closenesses,” a phrase meant to encompass both the CCP notion of the imperative of media control, and at the same time the need to commercialize the media and make media products broadly more attractive to ever more savvy audiences.

In January 2003, Li Changchun announced top leadership would take a “Three Closenesses” approach to the control of mass media: “Closeness to reality, closeness to the masses and closeness to real life” (贴近实际,贴近群众, 贴近生活). Li said the emphasis of propaganda work should be uniting the “spirit” of the Party with public opinion. This was an elaboration of Jiang Zemin’s notion of “guidance of public opinion,” or yulun daoxiang (舆论导向), the idea being that people should be both guided and given media they found more attractive, interesting and relevant (in other words, could actually consume). The concept of the “Three Closenesses” was also seen as a key component of the so-called “Marxist View of Journalism” (马克思主义新闻观), the CCP’s vision of the purpose and practice of the media.

Li Changchun also called for “enlarging and strengthening” (做强做大), the idea being that “cultural” organizations (media, arts, etcetera) should push actively to become full-fledged businesses, forming an industry made up of powerful Chinese conglomerates (“aircraft carriers” they were actually called) equipped to do battle with foreign media groups like News Corp (China’s WTO accession had come in December 2001).

Two Newspapers and One Magazine

“Two Newspapers and One Magazine”, a media term inseparable from China’s newspaper culture before reform and opening, refers to the three most influential publications in China during the Cultural Revolution: People’s Daily, People’s Liberation Daily and Hongqi Magazine (renamed Qiushi Magazine in 1988). These three publications were used to deliver the latest ideological messages from Chairman Mao Zedong (毛泽东). The editorials appearing in the publications (which were all identical!) were regarded as the loftiest guides for Communist Party behavior and the unification of public opinion.
On May 31, 1966, the leader of Central Cultural Revolution Division, Mao supporter Chen Boda (陈伯达) took control of People’s Daily and refashioned it as a tool for Cultural Revolution propaganda. On June 1, People’s Daily printed an editorial called “Destroy all Evils” (横扫一切牛鬼蛇神), which sought to rally the support of the whole nation in carrying out a Cultural Revolution and the moving against “rightist” elements (those opposed to the policies of Mao Zedong). Chen’s team later gained control of People’s Liberation Daily and Hongqi Magazine, completing the so-called “Two Newspapers, One Magazine” propaganda machine, which became the principal force guiding all mass media in China.
By the end of 1966, after the publication of tirade called “Complete the Revolution on the Frontlines of Journalism” (把新闻战线的革命进行到底), a great number of newspapers had been shut down and those remaining fashioned into tools for promoting the Party ideology.
Aside from issuing the latest policies and messages about official movements, the editorials and comments issued by the “Two Newspapers and One Magazine” reinforced the cult of Chairman Mao. They includes slogans like “Long live the People’s Republic!” and sayings from Mao’s red book. Other newspapers sheepishly followed these three, mimicking not only their content but also their size, fonts and layout.
After the death of Mao on Sept 9, 1976, the Gang of Four ran the Chairman’s “dying words” – “Stay the course” (按既定方针办事) — in the editorials of the “Two Newspapers and One Magazine”. This was an attempt by the gang to further legitimize their powers in Mao’s absence.
When the Gang of Four fell on October 25, 1976, it was once again the “Two Newspapers and One Magazine” that announced “A Great and Historic Victory” (伟大的历史性胜利) and defined the new direction of the Party and the nation.
People’s Daily remains the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. It is still regarded as the principle mouthpiece of China’s top leaders.
People’s Liberation Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Military Commission, released its first issue on January 1, 1956.
Hongqi Magazine began publication as a central theoretical magazine during the Great Leap Forward in 1958. Its last issue was released on June 15, 1988. Less than one month later, the magazine was re-launched as Qiushi Magazine.
Additional Resources:
Hu Xingrong (胡兴荣), “The Era of Great Newspapers” (大报纸时代)

Social Benefit First 社会效益第一

Chinese media have gradually moved into the marketplace since the 1990s, even as the Communist Party continues to exercise controls over that market (specifying, for example, the scope of coverage for particular magazines and controlling appointments to top editorial positions). Under these new conditions, publicity departments (the Central Propaganda Department, GAPP, SARFT) put forward the “key principle” of “placing social benefit at the forefront, working to realize the unification of social benefit and economic benefit” (“把社会效益放在首位,努力实现社会效益和经济效益的统一”). This new principle, more about the interests of the Party than the public, emphasized the following:
Under the conditions of the market economy non-material cultural products (精神文化产品) are also commodities, but they are a special kind of commodity (特殊的商品). Journalists (or news workers/新闻工作者) must “earnestly and strictly” consider the social consequences of their own works.
Under the conditions of the market economy, attention must be paid to economic benefit in the production of non-material cultural products, and trends that do not take economic benefits into consideration or do not envision economic development must be avoided; the trend of superficial pursuit of the “selling point” that overlooks social benefit must also be opposed.
For those media which are important to the Party and nation, the country will provide policy and fiscal support.
(Source: “马克思主义新闻观和党的新闻工作方针原则”, “新闻战线”/News Frontline, May 2004)

Green Ratings 绿色收视率

This term was first used by China Central Television in 2006 in response to criticisms that an overemphasis on audience ratings was driving down the quality of programming. The idea of “green ratings” was to create a happy marriage between the pursuit of higher ratings and avoidance of content deemed sensational or damaging to the media’s overall credibility. [SOURCE: “Ten keywords in Chinese broadcasting research 2006”, Chen Lidan ]. [CMP: “Beijing Youth Daily editorial appeals for balance of public and commercial interests in Chinese media”].