License To Edit
It’s becoming a rite of spring. Around 120 bosses of Beijing-based magazines withdrew to the hillside resort of Hongluo Temple last week, for five days of rest, relaxation, and, when they paid attention, re-indoctrination. All week, Marxist theoreticians and media ideologues lectured them on their editorial duty to the Communist Party. On Friday, they were tested on what they’d learned. The questions weren’t very hard, since the agitprop was nothing new, and many had attended such trainings before. Still, it was critical that they pass. “If we don’t get our new work permits,” said one chief editor who took part, “our magazines won’t be able to pass the big inspection.”
Come July, the General Administration of Press and Publication will conduct what some officials have described as the broadest audit of China’s sprawling market of 9,500 periodicals since, well, it became a market. “They said it’s the ‘most comprehensive census in 30 years’,” related the editor. As a precursor, local press authorities nationwide are summoning magazine presidents (Á§æÈïø) and chief eds (ÊÄªÁºñ/‰∏ªÁºñ) to mandatory certification sessions like the one in Beijing. The audit comes ahead of the 17th Party Congress later this year, and though officials did not draw any direct link, the editor believed there was a connection. “By doing this right now, they wish to create a better atmosphere for the Congress,” he said, peppering in a tad of English. “The mood might be a little more ‘happy’.”
The editor, who heads up one of several dozen foreign lifestyle title launched in China, spoke with CDT/Biganzi by phone on condition of anonymity after class on Thursday and Friday. He was attending one of at least two training retreats scheduled for chiefs of periodicals registered in Beijing.
The licenses (Â≤ó‰ΩçÂüπËÆ≠ÂêàÊ†ºËØÅ‰π¶), first rolled into annual inspections for periodicals circa 2004, constitute one in a string of schemes to reinvigorate Party control over content by explicitly pegging the bosses’ jobs to it. State media folk have a derogatory term for this regulatory trend, shoubian (Êî∂Áºñ), which means to absorb someone into one’s own forces – in this case, editors into Propaganda. But at times, editor attest and notifications from local Press and Publication bureaus suggest, it’s been tough enough to get editors to go to class.
This focus of year’s course was clear, said the editor. Instead, “the emphasis was definitely on content – you know, the ‘direction of public opinion’ (ËàÜËÆ∫ÂØºÂêë),” he said. “It was all about how to cooperate with ÔºàÈÖçÂêàÔºâ Communist Party rule and ideology.”
Guest lecturers held forth on the supporting role the media had historically played to the Party through the ages. “From Lenin and Stalin through to Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu,” said the editor. Lessons covered all the hit Party precepts of yesterday and today. “The Scientific Development View (ÁßëÂ≠¶ÂèëÂ±ïËßÇ), Harmonious Society (ÂíåË∞êÁ§æ‰ºö), Three Represents (‰∏â‰∏™‰ª£Ë°®), Serve the People (‰∏∫‰∫∫Ê∞ëÊúçÂä°), Serve Socialism (‰∏∫Á§æ‰ºö‰∏ª‰πâÊúçÂä°) ”
The teachings only touched broadly on specific areas of sensitivity, according to this editor “Taiwan, religion, and anything else not that might not be conducive to the rule of the Party.” But the bulk was theoretical, said the editor, as expected. “There were so many different kinds of magazines, we didn’t get into a lot of specifics. You know how it is. The Party rarely tells you exactly what you can and cannot do. They just give you a framework to determine what is line with the rule of the Communist Party and what isn’t. And when you make a mistake, then they sack you.”
The expansiveness of censors’ diktats have been one of their big weaknesses all along. That is why they’ve been erecting new rules of the road for editors. As of this year, press regulators in Beijing are piloting a new points system to penalize locally registered press outlets for offending reports. They made an early example of Sanlian Life Weekly, which was assessed a six-point foul for a series of anniversary covers last year on events from the period of the Cultural Revolution. Rack up twelve points in penalties, and your top editors face the prospect of dismissal.
The licensing rigamarole, while seemingly pro forma, appears meant to lay the psychological foundation for this point-based regime. “In the past, they would just take care of that [the individual] magazine and that would be that,” said the editor. “So I think this is more of an overall attempt to address all the problems of editorial management.”
After the national audits set to happen next month, those periodicals that pass will find their titles posted on GAPP’s administrative site for journalists, mediainchina.org.cn (‰∏≠ÂõΩËÆ∞ËÄÖÁΩë), said the editor. He did not expect there to be many that don’t. “But you definitely need to get your license.”
Local press and publication organs may pocket a bit of extra spending money off the courses. Tuition cost 1300 RMB, said the editor. “But that included our meals and hotel rooms. So it really wasn’t expensive.”
And the impact of all this re-education? “Day to day, it’s hard to say. Everyone’s different. But we still have to run our magazines. Society is still moving forward, opening up,” said the editor. “So this [certification] system is their new way to control you. In some ways it could be more effective. What it really does is remind you that they’re still there.”
Still, the editor confessed, he skipped a number of classes to attend to business, and tuned out during others. “You choose what you want hear. It’s hard to pay attention all the way through.”
As a result the editor knew that he hadn’t aced the test. But he was confident he’d scored well enough. “Maybe I got an 80.”