By David Bandurski — Last Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao made his first speech since taking office in 2002 to deal comprehensively with the news media and its role in a changing China. It was a big deal. But it was also a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, masked with enigmatic party jargon. And that, perhaps, is why no one outside China’s press seemed to take notice. [NOTE: We have included the full Chinese text of Hu's speech at the end of this post.]
The speech — or, given the proper party gravitas, “important speech” (重要讲话) — sent propaganda underlings across China scurrying off to study and carry out (学习贯彻好) its meaning and “spirit” (讲话精神). It came, importantly, on the 60th anniversary of the official People’s Daily, to which Hu made a special inspection visit.
Hu said a lot of things that would make anyone but the hardest core terminology junky yawn. He said the media must play an “active role” in such tasks as “disseminating the socialist core value system” (社会主义核心价值体系) and “creating healthy, rich and lively mainstream public opinion” (健康向上、丰富生动的主流舆论).
Right. But what does all of this MEAN?
Fortunately, Hu has boiled it all down to five essential points for enhancing the [party’s] ability to guide public opinion (舆论引导能力).
The point to recognize first is that all five of Hu’s points are encompassed by “guidance,” a clear sign that media control remains the CCP’s unshakeable top priority (not exactly a surprise):
1. We must adhere to the principle of party spirit in journalism, holding firmly to correct guidance of public opinion (正确舆论导向).
2. We must adhere to people-based [journalism] (以人为本), increasing the affinity (亲和力), attractiveness (吸引力) and appeal (感染力) of news reports.
3. We must continue to reform and renew, enhancing the directedness and effectiveness of public opinion guidance (舆论引导的针对性和实效性).
4. We must strengthen the building of mainstream media and the building of new media (新兴媒体), creating a new pattern of public opinion guidance.
5. We must conscientiously take hold of the building of [propaganda/editorial] teams (队伍建设), enhancing our cohesiveness and fighting strength (凝聚力和战斗力).
Before we get down to each of these points, we would like to call attention to a possibly significant passage in graph three of the full text of Hu’s speech. That section reads:
News and public opinion are on the leading edge of the ideological domain, and they have a major influence on the mental life of society and on people’s mindsets. In contemporary society, along with economic and social development and continued scientific and technological progress, the transmission and obtaining of information has become faster and faster, and the role of news and public opinion have become more and more prominent. Doing the work of news and propaganda well concerns the overall work of the party and the nation, it concerns the overall condition of reforms, and the development of the economy and society, it concerns the long-term stability of the country.
What does this mean? While the news media has generally fallen under the category of “ideological work” encompassing myriad aspects of society — such as education, ideological training, indoctrination through government administered work units, etc — this passage suggests that the CCP is now training its focus more intensely on the management and control of the news media as a means of creating social cohesion and solidifying the party’s own position in society.
In other words, this is about doing “ideological work” in the information age.
Back to Point One of Hu’s Five Points, the policy here sits squarely in the Jiang Zemin tradition, emphasizing “correct guidance of public opinion,” a Jiang-era term that followed the June 4, 1989, crackdown on demonstrators in Beijing. Other familiar characters follow under Point One, including “emphasis on positive propaganda” “singing the main theme,” and “strict adherence to propaganda discipline.”
The only point of terminology departure from Jiang Zemin in Point One is the replacement of the old “theory of weal and woe” (福祸论) — basically, the idea the guided public opinion brings prosperity and chaotic public opinion brings calamity — with “three benefits and three wrongs” (三利, 三误). Hu says:
Correct guidance of public opinion benefits the party, benefits the nation, and benefits the people. Incorrect guidance of public opinion wrongs the party, wrongs the nation, and wrongs the people.
Point Two tempers the control policy somewhat with an appeal for media to make their content more relevant to the public. This is not exactly new. Under the vigilant watch of “guidance,” the media has essentially taken this path since the middle of the 1990s, seeking to produce attractive, engaging and commercially viable “media products.”
This development path was given its first official imprimatur by Hu Jintao in January 2003 through the policy of “Three Closenesses” — “closeness to the truth, life and the people.” Not surprisingly, we see the “Three Closenesses” reitereated in Point Two of Hu Jintao’s speech.
The “people-based” notion of Point Two is much more fully Hu Jintao. It recognizes, while relinquishing little or nothing in the way of control, that media are changing and must continue to change. Point Two says that media also have an obligation to reflect the will of the people (民意), but positive as that may seem, the CCP has typically seen its own will as indivisible from that of the people.
We do, however, have an interesting reiteration in Point Two of a Hu Jintao tweak from his political report to the 17th Party Congress last fall.
Those who watched Hu’s report for signals on the question of political reform noticed the appearance of the phrase “protecting the people’s right to know, participate, express and supervise” (保障人民的知情权、参与权、表达权、监督权). This was, in fact, a revision of Jiang Zemin’s 2002 political report, which said: “In the matter of cadre selection and appointment, Party members and ordinary people should have more right to know, participate, choose and supervise” (扩大党员和群众对干部选拔任用的知情权、参与权、选择权和监督权).
In Hu’s rendition the term “right to select”, or xuanze quan (选择权), is replaced with the “right to expression”, or biaoda quan (表达权). This language about the “right to expression” makes it into Point Two of Hu’s People’s Daily speech.
The language in Point Two is softer and a bit more fresh, but still shot through with the language of control. At the end of Point Two, for example, Hu says that as news media must observe “correct guidance” as they “report factual news stories.” He also says they should “speak with the truth, speak with news classics, speak with figures.”
This latter language, while still implying control (“news classics” are exemplary stories designed to embody “correct guidance”), is a slightly softer expression — suggesting the party and news media should convince rather than simply suppress. Obviously, one should not get overly excited about such miniscule semantic consolations.
Point Three is an interesting jumble of ideas, again a Gordian Knot of CONTROL and CHANGE. The basic idea seems to be that party leaders need to do a radical rethink on how they conduct the work of press control.
Hu says that “new propaganda work must adhere to emancipation of mind (解放思想), seeking the truth from facts (实事求是) and keeping pace with the times (与时俱进), accomodating new changes to the situation in and outside China, keeping in tune with the new expectations of the people and doing our work well with a spirit of reform and renewal.” Hu talks about renewing concepts, content, forms, methods and tactics, and “doing [propaganda] work according to news principles” (按照新闻传播规律办事).
In some sense, this sounds like it is as much about change as control. But we have to be careful here, and the meaning of these words will be borne out only in the handling of future news events.
One could argue that Hu is talking about news that is truer and more responsive to the demands of China’s public. But he is certainly also talking about a controlled and selective approach to information that creates the public perception of openness and an atmosphere of trust (much like the president’s recent exchange with Web users).
The March unrest in Tibet and the May 12 Sichuan earthquake offered party leaders very different lessons about information control, and we can see the fruits of this in Point Three.
China dealt with Tibet by sealing it off. But this created a vacuum in which international media took control of the agenda setting process, and China’s image suffered as a result. By contrast, coverage of the Sichuan quake was relatively open, particularly during the first week of the disaster. And this allowed China to largely set the agenda and project a favorable international image. Hu says in Point Three:
In the struggle that followed the recent earthquake disaster, we quickly released information about the disaster and the relief effort . . . earning high praise from cadres and the people, and also earning the esteem of the international community.
This is what Hu refers to when he says earlier in Point Three that the media needs to “actively set the agenda” (主动设置议题). This fits with what Hu Jintao said earlier this spring about the need for the media, particularly state media, to “keep a firm grasp” on initiative in reporting (报道的主动权) for disaster stories.
The idea is that, rather than simply suppress news, the party strikes first, defining the direction of coverage. As Hu says:
We must perfect our system of news release, and improve our system for news reports on sudden-breaking public events, releasing authoritative information at the earliest moment, raising timeliness, increasing transparency, and firmly grasping the initiative in news propaganda work.
Point Four of Hu Jintao’s remarks are a somewhat disturbing question mark. He talks about creating a “new pattern” (新格局) for opinion guidance. He seems to mean that party leaders should take a much more realistic and nuanced approach to press control, acknowledging the new social and market realities of the media. “With party newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations in the lead,” he says, “[we must] integrate the metropolitan media (都市类媒体), the Internet media and other various propaganda resources.”
It is too early to scream, “The sky is falling!” But this is a worrying picture. Commercial media and the Internet as untapped “resources” of propaganda? Hu’s “new pattern of public opinion guidance” (舆论引导新格局) is something we will have to watch as it takes shape.
We can, however, infer hints of this “new pattern” from Point Five.
Point Five is about the building of “propaganda teams” (队伍建设). In a traditional Chinese media context, this means building up a solid network of directors at newspapers and television stations, and teams of editors and journalists, who work with the party to enforce propaganda discipline and achieve correct guidance of public opinion.
Given the challenges of the information age, however, we might suppose that Hu Jintao hopes to expand his “guidance” teams beyond these traditional boundaries. How, for example, can he better build “teams” by tapping into the “resources” of commercial media and the Internet?
Good examples of such team building might be the powerful and growing teams of online commentators (网络评论员) that have been dispatched onto the Web at all levels of the national bureaucracy, or the “professional associations” that are increasingly serving as agents of speech control.
For the moment, the reading of Hu’s speech depends very much on how optimistic or pessimistic one is prepared to be. But the overall dynamics have not changed. This is still about CONTROL and about CHANGE, about changing media and changing approaches to control. Readers should not focus narrowly on CONTROL, overlooking real changes in Chinese media and society. Nor should they read too much CHANGE into Hu Jintao’s words, lest they be disappointed.
人民日报是党中央机关报，党中央对人民日报始终非常重视和关心。60年来，人民日报坚持正确办报方向，积极宣传党的理论和路线方针政策，积极宣传中央的 重大决策部署，及时传播国内外各领域的信息，讴歌真善美，鞭挞假恶丑，为我们党团结带领人民夺取革命、建设、改革的重大胜利作出了重要贡献。特别是改革开放以来，人民日报深入宣传中国特色社会主义理论体系，深入宣传改革开放和社会主义现代化建设的巨大成就，深入宣传广大干部群众团结奋进的先进事迹，高唱奋 进凯歌，弘扬民族精神，为激励全党全国各族人民积极投身改革开放的伟大事业作出了积极贡献。今年以来，人民日报在宣传党的十七大精神，特别是在抗击低温雨雪冰冻灾害、维护西藏社会稳定、筹办北京奥运会、抗震救灾等重大报道中发挥了很好的舆论引导作用。中央对人民日报的工作是充分肯定的。
全面贯彻党的十七大精神，高举中国特色社会主义伟大旗帜，以邓小平理论和“三个代表”重要思想为指导，深入贯彻落实科学发展观，继续解放思想， 坚持改革开放，推动科学发展，促进社会和谐，夺取全面建设小康社会新胜利，开创中国特色社会主义事业新局面，需要新闻宣传工作在打牢全党全国各族人民团结 奋斗的共同思想基础方面发挥积极作用，在传播社会主义核心价值体系方面发挥积极作用，在为推进党和国家事业发展凝聚强大精神力量方面发挥积极作用，在营造健康向上、丰富生动的主流舆论方面发挥积极作用，在促进社会和谐方面发挥积极作用。新闻战线的同志一定要充分认识肩负的重大责任，保持奋发有为的精神状态，发扬认真负责的工作作风，兢兢业业做好新闻宣传工作，进一步引导广大干部群众把思想统一到党的十七大精神上来，把力量凝聚到实现党的十七大提出的各项任务上来。当前，新闻宣传工作尤其要为做好抗震救灾和恢复重建、推动经济社会又好又快发展、筹办北京奥运会等工作作出积极贡献。
第二，必须坚持以人为本，增强新闻报道的亲和力、吸引力、感染力。坚持以人为本，是做好新闻宣传工作的根本要求。要坚持把实现好、维护好、发展 好最广大人民的根本利益作为新闻宣传工作的出发点和落脚点，坚持贴近实际、贴近生活、贴近群众，把体现党的主张和反映人民心声统一起来，把坚持正确导向和通达社情民意统一起来，尊重人民主体地位，发挥人民首创精神，保证人民的知情权、参与权、表达权、监督权。要面向基层、服务群众、深入实际，多报道人民群 众的工作生活，多反映人民群众的利益要求，多宣传人民群众中涌现的先进典型，激励全体人民信心百倍地创造美好生活。同时，要注重在报道新闻事实中体现正确导向，在同群众交流互动中形成社会共识，在加强信息服务中开展思想教育，用事实说话、用典型说话、用数字说话，化解矛盾，理顺情绪，引导各方面群众共同前进。
第三，必须不断改革创新，增强舆论引导的针对性和实效性。新闻宣传工作必须坚持解放思想、实事求是、与时俱进，适应国内外形势的新变化，顺应人民群众的新期待，以改革创新精神做好工作。要坚持用时代要求审视新闻宣传工作，按照新闻传播规律办事，创新观念、创新内容、创新形式、创新方法、创新手段，努力使新闻宣传工作体现时代性、把握规律性、富于创造性，不断提高舆论引导的权威性、公信力、影响力。要认真研究新闻传播的现状和趋势，深入研究各类 受众群体的心理特点和接受习惯，加强舆情分析，主动设置议题，善于因势利导。要完善新闻发布制度，健全突发公共事件新闻报道机制，第一时间发布权威信息， 提高时效性，增加透明度，牢牢掌握新闻宣传工作的主动权。在这次抗震救灾斗争中，我们及时公布震情灾情和抗震救灾情况，深入宣传抗震救灾中涌现出来的先进 集体和模范人物，大力弘扬抗震救灾的伟大精神，为鼓舞广大干部群众坚定信心、团结一致做好抗震救灾各项工作发挥了重要作用，赢得了广大干部群众高度评价， 也得到了国际社会好评。其中的成功经验值得认真总结，并要形成制度长期坚持。
第四，必须加强主流媒体建设和新兴媒体建设，形成舆论引导新格局。要从社会舆论多层次的实际出发，把握媒体分众化、对象化的新趋势，以党报党刊、电台电视台为主，整合都市类媒体、网络媒体等多种宣传资源，努力构建定位明确、特色鲜明、功能互补、覆盖广泛的舆论引导新格局。要把发展主流媒体作为 战略重点，加大支持力度，扩大覆盖面和影响力。互联网已成为思想文化信息的集散地和社会舆论的放大器，我们要充分认识以互联网为代表的新兴媒体的社会影响力，高度重视互联网的建设、运用、管理，努力使互联网成为传播社会主义先进文化的前沿阵地、提供公共文化服务的有效平台、促进人们精神生活健康发展的广阔 空间。
(Posted by David Bandurski, June 25, 2008, 11:10am HK)