On 12 April, “Red Flag Manuscripts”, a political theory journal run by the authoritative Party publication Seeking Truth, published an article written by Ren Xianliang, vice-chair of the All-China Journalists’ Association and vice-director of the Shaanxi Propaganda Department. It provides an interesting insight in the intra-official discourse on media governance issues and some of the opinions within the propaganda structure regarding the effect of social media.
How is the Party to Manage the Media Well in the New Era?
Comprehensively Planning Two Public Opinion Fields, Concentrating Positive Social Energy
In the China of today, two public opinion fields objectively exist, one is the traditional media public opinion field with Party papers, Party periodicals, Party stations and news agencies at the core, one is the new media public opinion field with the Internet as basis. The two public opinion fields’ central dissemination themes, appeals and expressions have been separated and opposed for a long time, which has not only directly challenged the baseline of the principle that the Party manages the media, but has also lead to the separation and confrontation of social strata, grave damage to government credibility and a corruption and weakening of the Party’s governance base.
New media represented by the Internet are a new factor changing the situation, public discourse power has been released to the largest extent, in the network space, the masses make a hubbub, wantonly express themselves, and flow disorderly. “Online Plotters”, the “Online Navy”, “Online Violence” and other manufactured treacherous online public opinion, “Online Questioning of Politics”, Online Supervision” “Online Trials” and other incited public opinion tempest have become turbulent, the difficulty of public opinion guidance and social management has risen abruptly. Especially after the rise of microblogs in 2010, and the “Weibo Era” in which “the entire people become journalists” began, trivial matters may all be magnified by the “surrounding gaze” into major public opinion incidents with extremely sensational effects. What is even more severe is that some forces manipulate online public opinion, fabricate political rumours, and maliciously blacken the image of the Party and the Government, which disintegrates the governing basis of the Party. The 2013 “Southern Weekend” New Year’s message incident brazenly challenged the system of the Party’s news management. And some people use the network to set up “individual media”, their words and acts are “unrestrained”, “not bound by laws or Heaven”, their influence is not inferior to newspapers and periodicals, or news agencies. For example, a few people hold high the banner of anti-corruption, or raise a flag of “journalism” without journalist cards, they use websites registered abroad, and “sell export products at home”, they use explosive means to blackmail and kidnap local Party Committees and governments. Some people even call online disorder an “online cultural revolution”.
At the same time, under the reverse pressure of online forces, traditional media have arrived in a situation where it is impossible not to reform. Some traditional media have an unclear understanding in this regard, or are even blindly optimistic, add to this the “official media” air that is far removed from the masses, bureaucratic “eight legged” writing styles, mechanical and preaching “inculcation” models, and as time passes, audiences stay at a respectful distance from mainstream media, hate it and abandon it. At present, connecting the two public opinion fields and raising public opinion strength has become a real issue for strengthening the Party’s governance ability construction that urgently needs to attract high attention.
I, Governing new media according to laws and regulations, occupying new public opinion battlefields
Draw up real regulations and true rules. The rise of network and other new media, and especially the emergence of blogs, microblogs and other social media have, in fact, disintegrated policy regulations about not permitting private persons to run the media, prohibiting supervision across regions, etc.
Some Weibo big Vs, who amassed fans easily numbering into the hundreds of thousands or even millions, have set up Weibo periodicals and Weibo stations, online videos are even more strange and incendiary, and their dissemination strength and influence greatly exceeds that of print media and even radio and television. It seems as if management departments turn a blind eye to whether or not so-called famous explosive people, and Weibo big Vs have lawful and proper journalist cards or whether or not they have the credentials for gathering, editing and broadcasting news, or are at wit’s end. It seems as if all commercial websites are gathering, editing and reprinting news in violation of regulations, and management regulations concerning Weibos of civil servants and news employees, with a bit of flexibility, are easily avoided, they exist in name only and perform practically no function. Our country is a rule of law country, the State has the powers to manage the web according to the line, those who run it have a responsibility to run the web according to the law, the public has a duty to use the web according to the law. National legislation organs and network management departments must suit the requirements of the circumstances and developments, comprehensively examine and arrange current network management regulations, and must timely revise those that are out o date, the perfection of those with loopholes must be grasped, and those that are newly formulated must be published as soon as possible, they should also be focused, perspicacious and be truly practical and effective.
Dare to truly grasp and manage. The Party managing the media and the Party managing public opinion is similar to the Party managing the Army, and the Party managing the gun, it is the basic and unwavering principle of persisting in the leadership of the Party, and especially under the current circumstances, this can only be strengthened and not loosened. At present, a few netizens use the network to vent personal spite, fabricate rumours or mislead the masses, they even infringe other persons’ privacy or commit online crimes; some so-called network elites use sensitive affairs to wilfully attack the current system, censure or blacken the Party and the government, or even incite the masses to subvert the Party’s leadership and the State regime; some traditional media employees plant the public garden by day, and plant private soil at night, they publish drafts that they cannot openly publish in their own media online, incognito or using an alias, or even sell the m to some websites for money. The network is absolutely not outside the law, and must be managed according to the law. If we do not take this serious, but take a laissez-fair attitude, a “broken window” effect is bound to ensue, which will further engender and aggravate online public opinion disorder. In fact, we must dare to boldly confront those powerful media, famous websites, famous bloggers and Weibo big Vs in terms of management, warn those that should be warned, shut up those that should be shut up, and close those that should be closed. As long as they violate laws, regulations or discipline, we must persist in handling them according to the law, and may absolutely not be soft-hearted. Only if we get to manage new media, including the network, according to the law, in the same way as real society, will we be able to turn matters to our advantage and not suffer harm, and will it be possible to give beck a standardized, orderly, civilized and healthy network world to the masses.
Be good at bringing management into use. The Party’s Internet work policies persist in integrating the three aspects of development, use and management throughout. In dealing with new media, we must equally be good at explaining, management and treatment. We must organize special forces to continue to deeply research and grasp the characteristics and rules of new media and their information dissemination, to make management more skilful, raise its level, and enrich its effectiveness. We must treat news websites that have newsgathering credentials equal to traditional media, and bring them into the Party news management structure, provide their newsgathering and editing personnel with journalist cards, and implement regularized and systematized management. Towards important and influential commercial websites, we must strictly implement management according to the law, realistically standardize their news publishing activities, and effectively control their employees. Online “opinion leaders” have represented the voice of a corresponding quantity of fans, the masses’ attention is high, and their influence on netizens’ emotions and online public opinion is large. Management departments must adopt many kinds of methods to transform, foster and train a large batch of “opinion leaders” who understand, agree with and praise the Party and government line, principles and policies, and influence netizens and guide public opinion through them. At the same time, we must advocate that Party members and cadres go online, open microblogs, and speak for the Party and the government, fostering our own online “speech leaders”, and occupying this new public opinion battleground of new media.
II, Connect the two public opinion fields, carry forward the main social melody.
Seek for the “largest common denominator” of both public opinion fields. Despite the fact that the two public opinion fields of traditional media and new media objectively exist, and it is even so that one declines while the other grows, but it will be difficult for one to eat the other for the time being, and they will jointly live and exist, mutually intermingle, mutually influence each other, and interact often for a long time into the future. At present, in strengthening the Party’s leadership over news and propaganda work, traditional media and news media should not be one-sidedly dismissed, we must connect both public opinion fields, jointly play the main melody of the times, and combine positive development energy. Connection means integration, the higher the degree of integration of both public opinion fields, the more unified the expression of social and public opinion is, the more harmonious the public opinion environment will be, and the stronger the focus and effectiveness of public opinion guidance will be. Because of this, we must strive to pursue the “largest common denominator” between traditional media and news media, grasp common grounds and points of consensus, and finish great public opinion guidance writings. The Party’s purpose is to serve the people with a whole heart and soul. the Party has handed an important task to traditional media, which is to integrate transmission of the Party’s voice and reflecting the voices of the people. Now, online and other new media are the greatest assembly platform for public emotions and the popular will, its mainstream similarly is upward, inclined to the good and to the beautiful, it longs for political peace, social harmony and happiness in the people’s livelihood. The heart of the Party and the will of the people are the largest “mix of feelings” between the two public opinion fields, and are a rallying point for connecting both public opinion fields.
Promote “same-frequency resonance” between both public opinion fields. Setting up discussion topics is an important means of pubic opinion guidance. News management departments must bend over their bodies, and listen attentively to the voices and will of the people, seize more topics from the masses’ public opinion, set up discussion topics more from the angle of the masses, in order to engineer that both public opinion fields sing ‘the same song”. The traditional media and new media share, “points of interest”, including large matters such as the general plan for the Party to run the country and govern politics, policies in domestic affairs and foreign relations, and small matters such as the safety and daily life of the common people and all sorts of matters among people and society, as long as a “point of excitement” is prodded, they form public opinion fields with same-frequency resonance, which develop and expand healthy and upward mainstream public opinion. Even when dealing with the surging tides of public opinion shaped in some public crises, as long as we are good at discovering the light of reason within them and enlarge the positive voices within them, we guide actions according to circumstances and respond correctly, we will be able to collect the flowing tricks and make them into large rivers and steams, and let mainstream public opinion become loud and clear. Among “Protect the Diaoyutai” anti-Japan demonstrations that occurred in many places nationwide on 15 September 2012, the phenomenon of smashing Japanese cars occurred in some localities, online and offline, there was all-round condemnation of this. Propaganda management departments grasped the opportunity to promote the common voice of traditional media and new media, and vigorously guided the public to reasonably, lawfully and orderly express patriotic emotions, gaining an extensive response from all walks of society, and safeguarding the greater picture of harmony and stability, it was a successful example of the connection and guidance of the two public opinion fields.
Stimulate the organic integration of the two public opinion fields. All levels of Party Committees and governments, as well as leading cadres, must actively demolish the “lack of understanding” concerning the web and netizens, and cannot despise online public opinion because of its “grass roots”, cannot reject it because of netizens’ “habitual calling into question” of the government, and can certainly not pretend to be deaf and dumb because of anxieties to provoke disputes. Only by making social public opinion and especially online public sentiment into wind vanes and reference systems for realizing the popular will, standing on the height of building the Party to serve the people and governing for the people, daring to face up to responsibilities, daring to take on the charge, timely responses and vigorous accomplishments, will it be possible to win the hearts of the people and win back confidence. The emergence of large numbers of government microblogs is a new media that government actively uses to build bridges to communicate with the masses, although it is a small area, its audience is extensive, its interactivity is strong, and its degree of attention is high, it has a great effect in disseminating information, explaining policy, answering policy and providing assistance, and it has already to a certain degree reversed the situation where the Party and the government were often passive and reeling in the microblog sphere.
Traditional media must also clearly understand the situation, liberate thoughts and dare to make breakthroughs. Reform should be comprehensive, the prerequisite is the correct orientation, the basis is the correct position, and the handhold is renewing content and promoting it in public opinion supervision. They must adapt to the tendency of mass-decentralized dissemination and rapidly transform from information disseminators into opinion providers, speak differently to different audiences, transmit different voices and provide different opinions, to effectively guide and influence different target groups and target areas. Media competition is centred on news, in public opinion guidance, “content is king”. Only when the audience likes to watch or listen and wants to watch or listen, is possible to realize effective dissemination. Mainstream media shall soberly recognize that “it isn’t the masses that abandoned you, it is you who became removed from the masses”. They must strengthen a consciousness of their audience, a service consciousness and a consciousness of timely effect, decide to report content on the basis of mass demand, news value and social effect, do not lose their tongue at key moments and concerning major issues, but make achievements. They must march out, sink in, and merge, make the masses into subjects of reporting and service targets, use methods that the masses like to speak, make the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the masses into the highest standard of weighing the effect of news and propaganda. Make practicing the Party’s mass line into a self-consciousness; make walking towards the grass roots, transforming work styles, improving writing stiles, into a sort of normality.
Public opinion supervision is the natural duty of news media, and is an important means to remould the credibility and authority of mainstream media, the popular masses have corresponding expectations, and the Party and the government have placed great hopes here. Mainstream media cannot be ostriches burying their heads in the sand, but must dare to directly face social hot points and public opinion focus points, directly reflect popular feelings and the popular will, timely respond to the concerns of common people, vigorously influence and guide public opinion, promote the resolution of real problems, dispel negative factors inducing contradictions, and collect positive energy promoting development. At the same time, traditional media must also accelerate their march towards new media, run official websites well, open official microblogs, open up authoritative information dissemination channels to let the voice of the Party and the government enter online communities timely, and promote smooth communication and benign interaction between the government and the masses online.
Ren Xianliang: Vice-Chairman of the All-China Journalists’ Association, Standing Vice-Director of the CCP Shaanxi Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Department)