The Art of Guiding Public Opinion — How Leading Cadres Handle the Media 《舆论引导艺术 — 领导干部如何面对媒体》 by Ren Xianliang 任贤良 vice director of the Shaanxi Province Party Committee Propaganda Department and Vice Chairman of the China Journalists’ Association
(420 pages, published in April 2010, publication information below) is filled with examples of media problems such as discussion of a controversial court case and excessive praise for a just deceased KMT general in the media (p. 46) and their resolution.
Summary of highlights with page numbers:
Before the Lhasa event of March 14, 2008, Chinese media was on the defensive and China a weak voice in the world media. After 3-14, China didn’t react quickly enough; all levels of media hesitated, waiting for instructions. The Chinese media did better during the Olympic torch carrying controversies in several countries, and finally went on the initiative after the July 5, 2009 Xinjiang events. (pp. 54 – 56).
The increasing contradictions in society due to accelerating institutional reform, economic development, employment, rural-city issues, conflicts between labor and capital, and the increase in mass incidents make correction management of public opinion more urgent than ever before. (pp, 60 – 65)
Party policy is complete and correct, although sometimes it loses something of this during transmission from the top to the bottom. If leaders do not manage public opinion properly, non-oppositional contradictions among the people can become oppositional contradictions among the people 非对抗性人民内部矛盾演变为对抗性人民内矛盾, leading to ideological problems, emotional opposition and to mass incidents. (pp. 67 – 69)
The growth of the market economy and so the diffusion of the elements of production within China and abroad, broadcast technologies, and realization of all countries that managing the news media is important is leading to a relaxation of controls over the media in China. China has had many restrictions on foreign journalists and the Chinese media has been relatively closed. This is changing. Controls on foreign journalists have been relaxed since the Olympics. Although foreign journalists are required to have Chinese credentials in order to report in China, in practice this has been difficult to enforce. Many local party committees and governments, however, haven’t gotten the message that policy has changed. By ignoring this change, they are not only negligent in performance of their duties, they are also harming the image of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government. (pp. 72 – 76) .
Chinese journalists reporting on provinces other than their own are a positive force for openness. Trans-provincial “supervision by public opinion” helps resolve problems. The central media journalists posted in the various provinces are not under the direction of that provincial party committee’s propaganda department. They are able to think more freely. There are also increasing numbers of provincial level journalists doing interviews and reporting outside their home province. This is all important. The central media is not only the voice of the Party Center, it is also the ears of the Party Center. (pp. 83 – 88).
[Comment: We can contrast this last bit with the strictures on interprovincial reporting in the 2011 central propaganda department guidance.
“2. Strictly control reports on “disasters and extreme incidents.” The entire quantity of these sorts of reports cannot include interviews or supervision from non-local areas. Wherever large disaster incidents occur, central media organizations will provide on-going reports that will not be broadcast live. For disasters with a death toll of less than ten people, central media organizations will not report. These will be reported by local media organizations, and media from areas outside the area of impact are not to conduct interviews or reports across borders. Central media organizations will not report on common accidents. Local media organizations are to provide appropriate reports on such incidents. Media organizations from outside the area where the accident occurred cannot provide reports.”
http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/01/2011-general-notice-from-the-central-propaganda-bureau/ How to reconcile this? I will look to my party secretary for guidance. ]
The Internet threatens Chinese national security to a certain extent p. 99
“Western enemy forces use the Internet extensively to westernize and divide China. They are constantly using websites as bases of false information to slander China. “They slander the socialist system, slander the leadership of the Communist Party, and despise the people’s democratic dictatorship. They encourage China to adopt a political system with a tripartite separation of powers, and competitive multiple parties. They use websites and in cooperation with certain people within China attack Chinese legal arrangements for nationalities and religions and China’s legal system. They make accusations against Chinese news and publications system, apply pressure to China to eliminate the newspaper registration system (baojin) , and the restrictions against unapproved websites and political parties. Their ultimate goal is the overthrow of the leadership of the Communist Party and the shattering of the socialist system.”
The internet is an excellent tool for gathering and then releasing information. Receivers of information easily become broadcasters. Some characteristics of news and the reaction to news on the internet include news gathering on the net for amateur secondary news reports, amplification of small issues, a resonance effect in which secondary reports to which people have added their own comments overwhelms regular news reporting. Some incidents draw much attention to a single topic like water flowing to lower areas.
* An October 2007 report on and then debate about Zhou Zhenlong’s South China tiger photographs (p. 104),
* After an October 2008 dam break in Xiangfen County 襄汾县, Shanxi Province, the county reported one dead and one injured, attracting strong protests online from many including eyewitnesses — finally a State Council investigation established that 277 people had been killed and 4 missing from the flood. (p. 105) .
* A minor fruit infestation in Guangyuan, Sichuan in September 2008 that was handled quickly and effectively became a panic when rumors about Sichuan fruit spread rapidly by cell phone. (pp. 108 – 109)
News reporters have many sources — any member of the public can become a news source. Able leaders cultivate journalists, give them news tips, and are open to interviews. In this way they can increase the coverage of their district. Some leaders, when bad news comes, refuse interviews and order the propaganda department to tell journalists to stop reporting. Some even interfere with their work. Sometimes journalists are bribed, hit, detained or their equipment is confiscated. Sometimes leaders angrily denounce propaganda department cadres when attempts to supervise public opinion fail. (pp. 113 – 115).
Officials who bribe the media or try to cover up often find the more they do this, the worse it becomes.
Groups of visiting journalists should be welcomed and accommodated so they can do their job. A bad example: Over the protests of journalists, one unnamed city sent a group of journalists together to several dozen interviews over several days so they did not really have any time to interview anyone when they arrive at an interview point. The journalists gave in to avoid offending local leaders, but they had nothing to report after three days on buses, sometimes late at night. (pp. 121 – 123)
The masses have democratic rights specified in the Constitution and enunciated at Party Congresses. Hu Jintao in his report to the Seventeenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party used the word “democracy” 69 times. (p. 125)
People have a right to know (this is true in other countries too, for example the USA enacted its Freedom of Information Act), to express themselves, to participate in management and decisions about public life and to exercise oversight over the state. The media supports the right to know, warns society, exercises oversight over the government, participates in the market economy, and helps reconcile various interests. The media are the ears of the party and government and their microphone. A classic example of the news media in action was the Watergate affair. The lesson of Watergate is that failure to understand the media can be fatal to a government or a ruler. Lies cannot substitute for the truth and the truth cannot be covered up for a long time. (pp. 137 – 141)
The nature of the relationship of the government and party to the media is different from the western countries. In the West, these relationships are often adversarial, debates with the media with many pointed questions. This is not true in China because the political system is quite different. This is an expression of the core value of the Chinese Communist Party “serve the people with all your heart” and embodiment of the fundamental values of Marxism. (p. 143)
The people are the masters of China and officials are their servants. This is said too often and many leaders don’t know what it means and do not put it into practice. They don’t take seriously the problem of creating an effective system for releasing news in order to satisfy as much as possible the people’s right to know. (p. 144)