China’s ruling Communist Party told the already tightly monitored state media on Monday that they should not be reporting on “wrong points of view”, but should instead focus on promoting “socialist values”.
Among other things, under new guidelines to enforce “core socialist values”, the media must “steadfastly uphold the correct guidance of public opinion,” according to a report published by state news agency Xinhua.
The official Beijing Daily described the party’s struggle to win hearts and minds as a “fight to the death,” evidence of concern within the party that control over public discourse is slipping. The Chinese government has long tried to keep a tight rein on traditional and new media to prevent any challenges to its political authority.
To hammer home the tougher stance, all 250,000 of China’s journalists will have to pass an ideological exam in order to renew their press cards, or figure out another way to make a living.
Passing the test won’t be a slam dunk, even for the most nationalistic Marxist-minded journo in lockstep with the Communist Party—the two-volume study guide weighs in at about 700 pages and has 600 sample questions that provide the basis for the exam.
According to Reuters, the bottom line for reporters in today’s China is made quite clear in the study guide’s instructions: “It is absolutely not permitted for published reports to feature any comments that go against the party line.”
And as if that were not clear enough, it adds, “the relationship between the party and the news media is one of leader and the led.”
I don’t know about you, but that pretty much leaves no room for misinterpretation.
The goal of the test is to “educate and lead news gatherers to uphold the Marxist journalistic ideals more consciously, to better serve the people, socialism, the work of the party and the country,” according to the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.
That said, it’s still tough to predict what subjects Chinese media will not be able to report on in 2014. It’s hard to imagine a Chinese newspaper not reporting on disparity of wealth, corruption, police brutality, food safety and ethnic independence movements, all which have been fair game this year.
Traditionally, Chinese state media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda. But reforms over the past decade that have allowed greater media commercialization and some increase in editorial independence, combined with the rise of social media, have weakened government control, according to academics.
The introduction of the new rules is in sync with the Chinese government’s current attempts to censor foreign journalists through the visa process.
After several weeks of uncertainty over the visa status of reporters for the New York Times and Bloomberg working in China, it appears some—but not yet all—are receiving the press cards necessary for them to renew their visas and continue working in the country, according to the Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.
“The recent visa row is probably the clearest indication that Chinese leaders now view foreign media reporting on China as damaging not just to the country’s international image but to the essential project of domestic public opinion control,” said David Bandurski, a China media analyst.
The New York Times exposé on the wealth of the family of former Premier Wen Jiabao, published in October 2012, was discussed widely on social media inside China, even as it was aggressively targeted by domestic censors.
“Given the potential domestic impact of more probing reporting in China like that done recently by journalists at the New York Times and Bloomberg, the Party leadership may see a more aggressive stance toward foreign media as a necessary part of domestic public opinion guidance,” said Bandurski.