Gagged Chinese media to usher in change

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • |
  • Updated: Oct 10, 2012 00:18 IST

In late August, Xu Huaiqian, a 44-year-old editor with People's Daily, among the primary mouthpieces of the omnipresent Communist Party of China (CPC), jumped to his death from a building.

The BBC quoted an interview attributed to him, "My pain is I dare to think, but I don't dare to speak out; if I dare to speak out, I don't dare to write it down, and if I dare to write it down, there is no place to publish… I admire those freelance writers, but I can't leave the system because if I do that, my family will suffer."

The CPC firmly controls the news industry in China, forcing journalists to toe the official line. It's alleged that Hu's condition was a direct result of not being able to put his thoughts on paper.

But change might be on the way. Earlier this year, a video conference was held between five government departments, including the Central Propaganda Department and Press and Publication Department where news organisations were asked to "go to the grass roots, change work approaches, revise prose style", which according to experts roughly translates into the Chinese word "zouzhuangai."

Journalist Margaret Simons, quoting a Chinese professor, said the concept had been advocated by the minister for propaganda at "five different occasions between August last year and the present day, most recently last month".

It's unlikely that the new concept will revolutionise Chinese media. But zouzhuangai could probably bring elements of best practices in journalism, the demands of the contemporary consumer, and, well, the government's needs closer; it could make the media more journalistically relevant and possibly raise it from the levels of a hapless propaganda machine.


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