BEIJING Dec 19 Early next year, Chinese
journalists will have to pass a new ideology exam to keep their
press cards, in what reporters say is another example of the
ruling Communist Party's increasing control over the media under
President Xi Jinping.
It is the first time reporters have been required to take
such a test en masse, state media has said.
The exam will be based on a 700-page manual being sold in
bookshops. The manual is peppered with directives such as "it is
absolutely not permitted for published reports to feature any
comments that go against the party line", and "the relationship
between the party and the news media is one of leader and the
The impact of increased control in the past year has been
chilling, half a dozen reporters at Chinese state media told
Reuters, mostly on condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions
for talking to the foreign media without permission.
"The tightening is very obvious in newspapers that have an
impact on public opinion. These days there are lots of things
they aren't allowed to report," said a journalist at a current
China has also intensified efforts to curb the work of
foreign news organisations. Both the New York Times Co
and Bloomberg News have not been given new journalist visas for
more than a year after they published stories about the wealth
of family members of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and
President Xi Jinping, respectively.
The General Administration of Press and Publication, a key
media regulator, has said via state media that the aim of the
exam and accompanying training is to "increase the overall
quality of China's journalists and encourage them to establish
socialism as their core system of values".
It did not respond to questions from Reuters about the exam
or press freedom in China.
"FIGHT TO THE DEATH"
Traditionally, Chinese state media has been the key vehicle
for party propaganda. But reforms over the past decade that have
allowed greater media commercialisation and limited increases in
editorial independence, combined with the rise of social media,
have weakened government control, academics said.
China media watchers point to a flurry of editorials after
Xi spoke to propaganda officials in August as evidence of
concern within the party that control over public discourse was
slipping. The official Beijing Daily described the party's
struggle to win hearts and minds as a "fight to the death".
Some reporters and academics, however, trace the start of
the tougher attitude to a strike lasting several days in January
by journalists at an outspoken newspaper, the Southern Weekly,
after censors scrapped a New Year editorial calling for China to
enshrine constitutional rights. Xi had taken over the Communist
Party only several weeks earlier.
"This was a shock to Xi Jinping's leadership (circle)," said
Xiao Qiang, a China media expert at the University of California
"They own these newspapers. That makes it an internal,
public rebellion, which made the censorship and media control
mechanism look really bad."
The strike ended after local propaganda officials promised
to take a lighter hand with censorship. While journalists there
would not talk publicly about the matter, some senior reporters
have since left the paper, two sources familiar with the matter
said, adding they did not know why. The Southern Weekly declined
MARXIST NEWS VALUES
Journalists will have to do a minimum 18 hours of training
on topics including Marxist news values and Socialism with
Chinese Characteristics, as well as journalism ethics before
sitting the exam in January or February.
Reporters who fail the test will have to re-sit the exam and
undergo the training again. It's not clear what happens to
reporters who refuse to take it.
While in theory all reporters in China need a press card to
report, many do so without one, said Zhan Jiang, a journalism
professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
Recent scandals in the Chinese media had also raised some
questions about the industry's professionalism, Zhan said.
A reporter for the Guangzhou-based New Express tabloid was
arrested in October after confessing on state television to
accepting bribes for fabricating more than a dozen stories about
Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co
The reporter wrote that Zoomlion had engaged in sales fraud
and exaggerated its profits, accusations strongly denied by the
state-owned construction equipment maker.
"It's hard to say if this is really to improve the actions
of journalists, or to control them. You don't know what (the
authorities) are thinking," Zhan said.
Reporters had little doubt about the aim of the exam.
"The purpose of this kind of control is just to wear you
down, to make you feel like political control is inescapable,"
said a reporter for a newspaper in the booming southern city of