Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Beijing orders tighter media controls

FT: By Mure Dickie in Beijing

Published: June 24 2008 17:12 | Last updated: June 24 2008 17:12

China’s ruling Communist party has ordered a strengthening of its news media propaganda system, dashing hopes of a more liberal approach to censorship in the wake of relatively vigorous domestic reporting of the Sichuan earthquake.

Party newspapers said on Tuesday that all domestic media had been ordered to “earnestly study and implement” a speech last week by President Hu Jintao, laying out guiding principles for development of China’s fast-growing news sector.

Mr Hu said the primary task of the news media was to guide public opinion correctly, since doing so would “benefit the party, benefit the nation and benefit the people”.

“[We] must strengthen political acuity and discrimination, maintain strict propaganda discipline . . . and properly guard the gate and manage the extent [of reporting] on major, sensitive and hot topics,” Mr Hu said.

China’s leaders have long sought to balance political controls on news reporting with the need to allow development of a more commercially-minded media.

The party’s propaganda department has been broadly successful in ensuring that quake reporting has stressed the positive contributions of government leaders and party members.

Mr Hu praised the handling of earthquake reporting but said innovation was needed to ensure the party could set the news agenda.

City newspapers and on­line media had created new “propaganda resources”, the president said, adding that the internet should be considered “the battlefield forward position for the propagation of advanced socialist culture”.

Mr Hu called for “construction of a new force” of propaganda leaders – chosen on the basis of loyalty to Marxism, the party and the people – who would be able to adopt new methods of opinion guidance.

“All kinds of methods should be used to groom famous reporters, editors, commentators and presenters who will be loved by the masses,” Mr Hu said.

David Bandurski, a researcher at the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, said that although Mr Hu’s mention of citizens’ “right-to-know” and his call for fact-based reporting might be seized on by independent-minded media to justify more critical reporting, it was clear he was not pushing fundamental change to the party’s policy of news censorship.

Beijing has also faced criticism in recent weeks for tightening controls on foreign journalists’ movements in the quake zone and banning travel to Tibetan areas.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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