Under Xi Jinping, Chinese journalists have faced tightening controls from the government, as officials have imposed ideological, political, and legal limits on their reporting while escalating online censorship and sending numerous journalists to prison. During a 2016 visit to state media offices, Xi emphasized that all official media “must work to speak for the Party’s will.”
New regulations will now require journalists for state-run media to pass a test on Party ideology, the results of which will determine their eligibility to obtain a press pass and work in the media. From China Media Project:
The Media Oversight Office (传媒监管局) of the Central Propaganda Department announced through a notice on August 23 that online training and testing of news personnel nationwide would now be handled through the “Study Xi, Strong Nation” mobile app, and that testing would take place during the first half of October for the issue of press cards (新闻记者证). The notice has ordered “news units” — meaning in this case central Party media outlets, including top Party-run newspapers, television and radio, as well as 14 central-level news websites authorized to issue press cards — to create and authorize study groups through the app before September 15 in order to prepare staff for study and eventual testing. [Source]
William Zheng reports further for the South China Morning Post:
About 10,000 reporters and editors from 14 state-run online media outlets in Beijing are expected to sit the “pilot tests” using the Xuexi Qiangguo mobile app, a media source who requested anonymity said on Wednesday.
Often compared to the Quotations of Chairman Mao – or the “little red book” as it was known in the West – Xuexi Qiangguo is essentially a news aggregation platform for articles, video clips and documentaries about the president’s political philosophy. Launched in January by the propaganda department, it is an example of the party using tech to strengthen its ideological control in China. The name translates as “study to strengthen the nation”, but also plays on the character “Xi” to suggest it is a way for people to learn about their head of state.
The media oversight office made clear that updated press cards, which are essential for those working in the industry, would only be issued to journalists who had passed the exam. Those who fail will have one chance to take the test again, according to the notice. [Source]
The Xuexi Qiangguo app has been widely promoted by the government as a way to promote Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, which has been enshrined in both the Party and the state constitutions.
At the Guardian, Lily Kuo reports that the tests are expected to be extended to journalists across the country after the trial run:
Most believe the regulation will soon apply to Chinese reporters across the country. Journalists from three media organisations, two of which were outside Beijing, told the Guardian their publications had also received informal notices to register on the app.
“From the top down to the bottom, I don’t think anyone will be able to escape it,” said one reporter from a broadcaster in the eastern Shandong province who said he was not authorised to speak on the topic.
[…] While some journalists said they resented the new rule, others were less critical. “Chinese society needs to strengthen political study and correctly lead public opinion,” said a reporter with a paper in the south-western province of Guizhou, who asked not to be named.
“Western media may be able to report on anything they want, but they also still pay attention to the ideology of their countries,” he said. [Source]
Meanwhile, journalists attempting to report on issues of local concern continue to face obstacles. A recent case in Shaanxi has raised concerns that the local government is using criminal charges against a journalist to quiet dissenting views. From Teng Jing Xuan at Caixin:
Li Xiaogen, also known as Li Gen, has been accused of offenses including disorderly conduct and “provoking trouble” for articles he wrote for the Hunan Contemporary Business Daily in 2018.
Li published stories about the seizure of a village-owned coal mine based on documents provided by villagers in Northwest China’s Shaanxi province.
Those documents were forged, but Li claims he didn’t know this when he published his stories.
Prosecutors argue he caused damage to the government’s reputation and online “chaos,” during a trial that took place between the end of August and early September this year at a court in Shenmu, a county-level city under the administration of Yulin, Shaanxi. [Source]
In a piece last year documenting media workers’ experiences in the Xi Jinping era, Initium Media quoted one reporter as saying:
Modern censorship is not about something you can’t report. It has become a ban on any type of “fire.” It’s not simply about ideology. This is not the emphasis. Anything that might get a big reaction from the public, or influence social stability, any societal hot topic, will be restricted. Not only that, censorship isn’t just what you can’t report, but what you should report, and how you report it. It’s meant to guide you in a positive direction. [Source]
See CDT’s Directives from the Ministry of Truth series of leaked propaganda directives to see what topics face censorship in China.