WANTED: official news critics to help control China’s press

By David Bandurski — Interested in trying your hand at the fine art of press censorship? The city of Zhuzhou, in China’s inland Hunan province, wants you. A notice posted on one of Zhuzhou’s official news sites yesterday called for applicants to its news commentary group, or xinwen yuepingzu (新闻阅评组), a group tasked with issuing post-facto criticisms citing violations of propaganda discipline which can often result in disciplinary action against specific media and/or journalists. [Frontpage photo by kvitlauk available at Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.]

China’s central-level news commentary group, unofficially situated within the Central Propaganda Department, is a powerful group of 7-9 mostly retired propaganda officials with a potentially powerful influence over the press. It was the news commentary group that forced the brief shutdown in 2006 of the journal Freezing Point.

censors-wanted.jpg

[ABOVE: Want to be a censor? Call this number. Screenshot of notice published at Zhuzhou Online.]

Formed in the early 1990s, the news commentary group was a response in part to changes in China’s media brought on by the process of commercialization. In a censorship system focused on prior instructions on “discipline,” more freewheeling media were finding creative ways to push the boundaries. One answer to this problem was to add a layer of censorship, a group that could make its own after-the-fact assessments of how well media were towing the party line. [See, "China's Shadow Censor Commissars," FEER, March 2006.]

Party leaders throughout China’s bureaucracy set about establishing their own news commentary groups, some for media generally and others focused specifically on the Internet.

In what it characterizes as a reshuffle designed to better guide public opinion locally, Zhuzhou is now casting about publicly for new members of its news commentary group. Here is the announcement:

City Propaganda Department Publicly Seeks News Commentators
August 31, 2009
www.zhuzhouwang.com

The propaganda department of the party committee of Zhuzhou is looking to hire news commentators. If you love the news, if you support the news work of Zhuzhou and care about the growth of media in Zhuzhou, if you have a strong knowledge of the news and a decent command of writing, then you can either call 2868-0232 and apply, or apply directly at the news division of the city propaganda department.

The news commentary group is an important means of ensuring the correct guidance of public opinion of news propaganda, and the quality of news reports. Our city has supported this work for a number of years already. In order to improve the effectiveness of news propaganda in our city, to ensure correct guidance of public opinion, and to better uphold the news policy of “Three Closenesses,” the municipal propaganda department has decided to reshuffle its news commentary team, and now publicly seeks scores of news commentators from the general population.

News commentators are responsible for criticisms of city-level media, and will be paid on a per-article basis. We ask that all those interested send an example of news criticism, with name, sex, age, employer and contact information, to the news division of the city propaganda department at ZZXWK@126.com before September 5.

[Posted by David Bandurski, September 1, 2009, 12:02am HK]

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