The official Guangming Daily has just published a rather long-winded theoretical article about “journalism and communication theory with Chinese characteristics” (or if you want, “the news with Chinese characteristics”). Not unexpected for an official paper in mainland China, the 3,364 word long article in simplified Chinese (authored by a publicity minister in central China’s province of Anhui) is riddled in officialspeak and is “inaccessible” for many an outside observer. Taking a slightly closer look at the article, however, a few points of interest might eventually pop up. Here’s a very quick summary of some of the key pointers of the article.
The Creation of “the News with Chinese Characteristics”
How surprised are we? In summarising how “the news with Chinese characteristics” is made, on many occasions, Marx is cited. Marx, indeed, is a key political component of the People’s Republic, as his political theory is always held to as a core component of Chinese political theory, and is “built upon” by later developments from Mao, Deng, and other leaders.
Here are some principles the article shone a light on:
- China is led by the Communist Party; hence, it is vital that the “party element” (as in the media is controlled by the CPC) is always there; herein there is no room to relax this principle.
- China is governed and led by the political theory of Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Therefore, control of the “ideological battlefield” is core, and thoughts are to be unified.
- China is a major power that is quickly developing. This is where the buyer counts. This is also where the elements behind a story matter.
- China is a developing country. This is why some issues will still need time to be resolved, which is why the media needs to play more of a guiding role.
- China is a country with deep-seated reforms underway. This is where different opinions are to be tolerated, and a common denominator be found.
- China is a civilisation with thousands of years. This is why it is important the rest of the world knows “how China ticks”, and why a cultural element is essential.
All this creates the news, or rather the journalism communication theory with Chinese characteristics. Naturally, China finds itself in a somewhat demanding position, where many different things, some at odds with the other, need to be explained to an audience bot local and international.
Different Journalism Policies Throughout Different Administrations
Another key part of the article takes readers through a quick trip back to how news and journalism policies were. If we deliberately choose to “zip through” Marx and Lenin, and only look at the policies of different PRC leaders, we can see the evolution of such policy:
- Mao: “Politicians must establish the presses.” (Or: the “China-fication” of Marxist journalism principles.
- Deng: “Be true to the facts.” (求是论)
- Jiang: “If public opinion is guided properly, this is to the benefit of the party and the people; if it is guided in error, it is of detriment.” (This was mentioned in September 1996.)
- Hu: “Make news approachable (relevant) to the masses.”
- Xi: “Propaganda / publicity and theory work must consolidate the core guiding place of Marxism in the ideological domains, and consolidate the common thinking of the struggles of the entire party and population.”
Overseas observers merely interested in rushing through the key theory may conclude that Chinese media is still the “same old, same old”. They freshly miss the lack of such strict rules on anything which is not “hard news”, although Beijing, too, is increasingly frustrated at “too low-brow culture”. (Personally, yours truly is stunned at the kind of noise that can be in essence ululated into a microphone, then be called “a song” and actually “get an audience” these days.)
Not Dismissing the Rest of the World…
Of interest is the fact that the article mentions “the rest of the world”, although realistically speaking, this has always been the case, especially since the 1978 reforms initiated by Deng. It in particular affirms that “it is okay” to see what other countries are doing when it comes to journalism, and that it is possible that a theory or tactic from the outside of the world could work in China.
However, the article is then quick to point at problematic issues — especially those that involve “the foreign media” (but also points out at extant issues in the Chinese media world). These include:
- the “independent media”, which the article argues is not actually independent
- problems with media bodies being responsible to society
- hyping / sensationalism
- “paid news”
- an obsession on circulation and grabbing as many viewers as possible
- an issue of the abuse of news freedoms (the article mentions that although the right to free speech is protected for journalists and the masses, that there is also an emphasis on the unity and correctness of freedoms and correct points of views, as well as an emphasis on both democracy and the law, and both freedoms and discipline
The article further mentions the Six Key Uses of the news media:
- disseminate the positions of the party
- “develop and expand” justice and righteousness in society
- express the views of the communities
- guide discussions on social issues
- “relieve” issues and negative views of the masses
- do a good job of guiding public opinion
Somewhat disturbingly for some, the article goes to mention that there is a risk that new media is “too noisy”, and that there should be a louder, more “proper” voice, obviously from the official news media.
The news, however, is increasingly also being made to be understood quicker and with more ease. The article concludes by advocating briefer, newer ways of expressing news, rather than the use (abuse, rather) of “long, bogus, empty talk”.