As part of a major government restructuring plan that consolidates a number of ministries and commissions, the newly reappointed Xi Jinping administration is tightening Party oversight of the media and publishing industries in an effort to further strengthen control of the media domestically while expanding its soft power efforts globally. As announced last week, the State Administration for Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television will be abolished and replaced by a State Administration of Radio and Television, which will be under the direct control of the State Council. A document released by Xinhua today, titled “Program for the Deepening Reform of Party and Government Organs,” clarifies that the press, publishing and film portfolio that was previously under SAPPRFT will now be under the direct control of the Central Propaganda Department. At China Media Project, David Bandurski translates relevant sections of the document:
Following reorganization, the principal responsibilities of the Central Propaganda Department concerning news and publishing management will be to put into practice the Party’s propaganda work policies; draw up management policies for the news and publishing industries and supervising implementation; manage administrative affairs for news and publishing; overall planning, guidance and coordination for news and publishing activities; industry development; supervising and managing the content and quality of published materials; supervising and managing the printing industry; managing copyright issues; managing the import of published materials. [Source]
The media shake-up, reported by Reuters on Wednesday and confirmed by the official Xinhua news agency, signals tighter media control amid a broad crackdown on news, online content and film that goes against Party values under President Xi Jinping.
[…] The reorganization would mean the publicity department would play a “special and important role in propaganda ideology and cultural entertainment,” said a notice seen by Reuters from the ruling Party’s Central Committee dated March 19.
Xinhua published the notice on Wednesday.
The body will take on powers over film, news and publishing, previously held by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which was dissolved earlier this month as part of the wider reshuffle. [Source]
As Chris Buckley writes in The New York Times, the move will impact the film industry and the importation of foreign films. Already, the Chinese government’s ideological control, combined with flush Chinese financing in Hollywood, have had a notable influence on the way China is portrayed in Western movies, a trend which is likely to intensify with the CCP playing a more hands-on role in determining who gets to benefit from the lucrative Chinese market:
In effect, the thin partition that had separated the Communist Party from direct oversight of film production and imports of foreign films has been stripped away.
The plan said the change reflected the “especially important role of cinema in propagating ideas and in cultural entertainment.” Newspapers, books and magazines will also fall under the propaganda department’s direct supervision. [Source]
Separately, a new broadcaster will consolidate China Central Television, China Radio International, and China National Radio into “one of the world’s largest propaganda machines,” a “super-broadcaster” which will be known abroad as Voice of China. From Bandurski’s translation of the Xinhua document:
In order to strengthen the Party’s concentrated development and management of important public opinion positions, in order to enhance overall strengthen in radio and television media, in order to promote the integrated development of radio, television and newly emerging media, accelerating the disseminating capacity of international broadcasting, China Central Television (China Global Television Network), China National Radio and China Radio International will be combined to form the Central Radio and Television Network, which will serve as an institution (事业单位) directly under the State Council, returning to the leadership of the Central Propaganda Department.
Its principal responsibilities will be to propagate the theories, political line and policies of the Party; to plan and manage major propaganda reports; to organize the production of radio and television; to produce and broadcast premium radio and television products; to channel hot social topics; to strengthen and improve supervision by public opinion (舆论监督), to promote the integrated development of multimedia; to strengthen the building of international broadcasting capacity; to tell China’s story well. [Source]
Bandurski also comments in an introduction to the translation:
Just to quickly give readers an indication of what this change means in terms of direct Party control from the center, China Central Television was previously overseen by the General Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television (previously just SARFT), a department under the State Council. The super-network will now be situated as a state-sponsored institution, or shiye danwei (事业单位), directly under the State Council, and directly under the supervision of the Central Propaganda Department.
The bear, in other words, will be hugging its “mouthpiece” media even more closely now. And that is largely the point that comes through here — the tighter, more centralized control of media and ideology. [Source]
Control over the domestic media and expanded efforts to influence the portrayal of China internationally have become a priority for Xi Jinping during his first term. Xi has encouraged domestic reporters to follow a “Marxist view of journalism” while also calling on media to “tell China’s story to the world.” David Bandurski has called Xi’s renewed emphasis on media control part of a vision of “all-dimensional control” – a vision that was largely realized at this year’s National People’s Congress meeting, where constitutional amendments and government restructuring ensured that Xi and the Party are “at the core” of all aspects of Chinese governance and society.
While the new Voice of China is tasked with “telling China’s story well,” James Palmer of Foreign Policy outlines just how difficult it is for any journalist, domestic or foreign, to do so accurately, due to stifling government control over information:
We don’t know China because, in ways that have generally not been acknowledged, virtually every piece of information issued from or about the country is unreliable, partial, or distorted.
[…] And we don’t know what we don’t know. These are the known unknowns, but the unknown unknowns are equally worrying. We may be missing the biggest future stories, the ones that will shake or transform China and the world, right now. Foreign reporters are limited to residence in a few major cities, chiefly Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen; they are followed and harassed when they travel elsewhere in the country and find it particularly difficult to reach the countryside. (According to the official population figures, Beijing and Shanghai, often portrayed as the norm for the new China, house less than 4 percent of the country’s residents.) The situation for Chinese journalists is far worse; a limited ability to conduct investigative journalism in the 2000s has been almost obliterated by authorities determined that there will be no oversight beyond the party. Fear grips throats; those who would once give names now talk anonymously, where many others do not talk at all. [Source]