A two-month campaign on news standardization has been announced by the State Council Internet Information office, the arm of the State Council Information Office (or Foreign Propaganda Office, in Chinese) tasked with maintaining order on online news and social media. SIIO has been ramping up pressure on news media recently, so this should not come as any surprise. If this campaign resembles previous campaigns in similar field, there will be a period in which Chinese journalists will be extra careful in toeing the line, particularly in issues of form. Some heinous examples will be brought to light and touted as victory, and after two months, things will go on pretty much as before. As in any large bureaucracy, its more important to appear as if work is being done, than to do work.
The fun for us academics is in reading the tealeaves as to how this campaign is being framed. Hence, a little lexicon on expressions in this document and how to understand them. I have underlined some terms in the full article, which are explained here:
– Unstandardized news source indications: in principle, most online news websites (with the exception of those belonging to mainstream news outlets such as People’s Daily) are not permitted to gather their own news in matters of economic, political or social interest. They are required to reprint stories from main news sites or Xinhua, and indicate the source used. If such source is absent, that might refer to the fact that foreign reports might have been used, which is a no-no.
– False or inaccurate reports: very often, reports that might be generally true, but that someone in the Party hierarchy wants to keep under wraps. The vaguer the denial, the greater the probability that there might be something to the story. This is particularly true for “inaccurate”, which may be used when the gist of a story is true, but numbers quoted are off.
– Closely revolving around the larger picture of Party and State work: I call this concept doubletruth, the notion that a story about a true event is not suitable for printing because it might endanger a “higher truth” put forward by politics. “The larger picture” means that journalists must not harm social or political stability for the sake of smaller interests.
– Unity, stability and encouragement: this means that (1) journalists should not clearly identify specific interest groups, but talk in general terms such as ‘the people’, ‘the masses’ or ‘the public’; (2) journalists should maintain stability in all its guises and not incite unrest, dissent, discord or other trouble and (3) journalists should provide clear guidelines for simple actions that can be taken to solve problems that are identified.
– Giving first place to positive propaganda: this propaganda principle was instituted after 1989, as the Party had noticed that a loss of control over the press had led to visible leadership splits, which were exploited by dissenting voices concerned about inflation, employment and other matters. As a result, the decision was taken to focus on positive, rather than negative news. In fact, there’s a whole speech about this.
– Sticking close to reality, life and the masses: news should discuss concrete facts, not larger tendencies. Analysis should focus on individual cases and events, not systemic causes for deeper running problems.
– Healthy style: first, not causing social unrest or stability issues, but furthermore, also not encouraging vulgarization of public discourse, etc.
– Professional morals/responsibility: voluntarily and consciously conducting journalism in a Party-approved manner, without the need for the propaganda bureaucracy to intervene – in relation to propagating the Chinese dream, for example.
State Internet Information Office Deploys and Launches Special Campaign to Standardize Internet News Information Dissemination order
The State Internet Information Office has deployed a special campaign, starting on 9 May, which will run for two months on a nationwide level, to standardize the Internet news information dissemination order.
The State Internet Information Office’s relevant responsible person states that this special campaign is aimed at prominent problems existing in websites publishing news at present, it focuses on dealing with unstandardized news source indications, releasing false or inaccurate reports, malicious distortion of news titles, illegal use of the name of news organs to release news and other unlawful acts.
This responsible person says that, in recent years, network media have closely revolved around the larger picture of Party and State work, persisted in unity, stability and encouragement, giving first place to positive propaganda, persisted in sticking close to reality, sticking close to life and sticking close to the masses, vigorously disseminated healthy and upward news information, fully reflected the huge achievements obtained in economic and social development, fully reflected the development results that the popular masses enjoy, their happy experiences of leading beautiful lives, and have sung the main melody of the times that the Communist Party is good, Socialism is good, reform and opening up are good, the magnificent motherland is good, and the people of all ethnicities are good online.
This responsible person stresses that standardizing the Internet news dissemination order, providing true and rapid news information in varied forms, with a healthy style and rich content to the public, and creating a healthy and upward network public opinion environment, are important tasks for Internet news information content construction. All localities and all websites must fully understand the importance of launching the special campaign, strengthen organizational guidance, formulate implementation plans, grasp the implementation of work and guarantee that real results are obtained. They must implement their management responsibility, expand inspection and guidance strength concerning the websites in their jurisdiction, supervise websites in completing and perfecting internal management systems, and raise new gatekeeping capabilities. They must expand punishment strength, and strictly deal with law-breaking websites where problems repeatedly occur, and that repeatedly commit offences according to the law. They must give rein to the function of social supervision, and conduct criticism and exposure of dissemination of false news, paid-for news and other acts. They must strengthen news employee training, continue to deeply launch “going to the grass roots, changing work styles, improving language styles” activities, and guide them in establishing a correct view of news, scrupulously abide by professional morals, strengthen a sense of the larger picture and a sense of responsibility, strive to create a good network public opinion environment for the millions of people to realize the magnificent Chinese dream.