Marxist School Now in Session for Chinese Journalists

Journalists take pictures and videos of a screen displaying a court’s microblog page during Bo Xilai’s trial on August 23, 2013.

Journalists take pictures and videos of a screen displaying a court’s microblog page during Bo Xilai’s trial.

China has ordered all journalists at state-run media to attend Marxism classes, the latest in a series of recent government moves to assert control over the press.

The Communist Party’s Propaganda Department is requiring the country’s entire official press corps—more than 300,000 reporters and editors—to attend at least two days of Marxist classes this month. State officials have enforced similar “press re-education” programs over the past decade. But this week’s move signals a renewed sense of urgency by authorities, who are trying hard to control the media in an era of microblogging platforms like Sina Weibo and Tencent Holdings’ WeChat, said David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project, a University of Hong Kong project tracking Chinese media reform.

Mr. Bandurski said the core focus of the classes will likely be on the Marxist view of journalism, which instructs reporters to listen to and support the party and help guide public opinion. Accordingly, the focus for journalists will be on reminding them to help foster stability and support for the government, and to listen to senior leaders in selecting what to publish, he said.

“They’re wagging their finger and saying ‘This is your role, don’t forget it,’ ” Mr. Bandurski said.

China recently has arrested scores of bloggers and shut various websites for sharing so-called “online rumors” in a bid to control the spread of information. On Sunday, state media reported that a famous blogger known as Xue Manzi , who comments on social issues, was detained on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute, sparking concern that Mr. Xue might have been set up.

This month, Chinese law officials also announced plans to crack down on “online rumors,” calling on all Internet users to exercise self-censorship and avoid harming the country’s “national interests,” a message also recently echoed in the state-run People’s Daily. Similarly, President Xi Jinping recently delivered a speech stressing the importance of propaganda to the party.

Mr. Bandurski said this week’s push doesn’t represent a change in official attitude toward the media. Instead, he said, the government is simply accelerating its efforts to try to influence reporters, further tightening the reins in an environment in which state media outlets are always given priority or even exclusive access to important stories and sources, allowing them to dominate the news cycle.

Frustration over such limits was further on display this past week during the highly politicized trial of disgraced official Bo Xilai, with commentators later spotting inconsistencies in official accounts of the trial, which was detailed via court accounts on Sina Weibo.

According to Reporters Without Borders, China ranks 173rd out of 179 countries on the organization’s Press Freedom Index. The 2013 report also called the country the world’s biggest prison for Internet users active on social media, with 70 such users currently imprisoned.

– Riva Gold

Source: China Real Time Report – WSJ–“Marxist School Now in Session for Chinese Journalists “

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