What the CCP Wants from its Media
Dr Gunjan Singh

On December 15, 2021 the All China Journalists Association (ACJA) organized a conference in Beijing. The Conference was attended by Xi Jinping who spoke to the participants and the winners of the China Journalism Awards. At the Conference the head of the Publicity Department, Huang Kunming, made a speech in which he urged the journalists to “make earnest efforts to publicize the Party's innovative theories to make them well-understood by the public and to take active measures to make the Party's voice heard” (China Daily).

On the surface of it the Conference appears to be a normal event. However, keeping in view the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) it becomes imperative to read in between the lines. Media under a Communist system is perceived to be the ‘mouthpiece’ of the government with no freedom to undertake independent reporting. Generally, the media should reiterate what the Party says and has to work under constant scrutiny of the leadership. No surprise that according to reports around 102 journalists were imprisoned in China and it ranked 177 out of 180 on the index of media freedom.

The struggle for freedom by the Chinese media has been ongoing since the country adopted the reform and opening up policy. However, even though economic freedom was allowed, there was no space for media freedom. The more China opened to the outside world; the Chinese media did witness a rise in the number of publications and a boost from newer communication technologies. But these were also limited to the sphere of non-political reporting and debates. With the rise in internet and its users there was a phase when it appeared that the Chinese media would become freer and fulfil its role as the spokesmen of the Chinese people, even though in a limited role.

This limited space has also been completely shrinking under the leadership of Xi Jinping. As early as 2016 during a tour of the media houses, Xi had demanded ‘complete loyalty’ from the media houses. He had asserted that the “All the work by the party’s media must reflect the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority, and safeguard the party’s unity”. Underscoring the idea that whatever the media reports has to be vetted by the Party and has to be in tune with Party policies.

Such statements when coupled with the recent directives underscores the argument that the CCP wants to see the media completely towing its line. Xi wants to the media to strengthen the people’s confidence in the Party. The assertions that the media should safeguard party’s unity do hint towards factions and polarization within the CCP. Xi wants to portray a much unified image of the Party under his leadership.

The rise of Xi towards becoming the ‘leader for life’ makes his demands from the media further complicated. Given the fact that Xi wants to maintain his control over the Party and the government he will need to portray an image of complete support and confidence in him. Any hint of mistrust or lack of confidence in the leadership of Xi can jeopardize his position. Xi believes that he is the only one at the moment who can work towards successfully ushering in the centenary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). For this to happen he needs to manage and avoid any form of doubt regarding his position.

Xi is also working towards developing and managing an international image with the help of Chinese media. The main goal here is to ‘tell the Chinese story right’. This means that the media should work towards controlling and countering the international criticism as well. The outbreak of Covid 19 has further complicated this task. The image of Party and China, domestically as well as globally needs to be managed and moulded in a way that it helps in strengthening the position of Xi as the head of the Party and China.

To add to these there were reports which suggested that the Chinese government is formulating new policies and regulations which will control the reporting from media houses that are not directly connected with the CCP. “Private cash cannot be used to support news collecting, broadcasting, and distribution, including social media” argued a paper published by China's National Development and Reform Council. (Wion)

With a rise in such restrictions and control the space for independent reporting is almost non-existent. It is clear that the Party stands above everything and everyone. Xi is working relentlessly to control the narrative regarding the Party both domestically and internationally. The media is seen as a very important tool in this task. However, last few incidents have shown that this task is tougher than imagined and just buying up media houses and restricting freedom of reporting will not help achieve the desired results. The more China gets interconnected with the world the more difficult it will be for the Party to manage the discourse. News flows through various channels and the increasing control on the domestic media only raises doubts regarding its legitimacy. The world today does not take the Chinese media at face value. The more the Party keeps the media under control the more it loses its legitimacy as narrative builder.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image Source: https://assets.telegraphindia.com/telegraph/2021/Mar/1614803547_xi-jinping.jpg

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