Broadcast Media in China Put On Notice

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BEIJING, Feb. 26 -- Communist Party propaganda chiefs have issued a stern new warning to China's broadcast executives, saying news reports and entertainment should promote socialist loyalty and soothe tensions as the country enters a sensitive political season.

The new guidelines were issued Jan. 12 at a meeting called by the party propaganda department; a written record of the gathering is currently circulating in Beijing.

The guidelines reflect a particular desire at senior levels of President Hu Jintao's government to see a picture of harmony and contentedness in the broadcast media as the Chinese legislature prepares to meet next month and the Communist Party gets ready for its 17th national congress in the fall.

Propaganda officials regularly issue orders to Chinese television, radio and newspaper executives, listing subjects to be avoided or treated with care in the heavily censored media. But the marching orders last month appeared to be part of a concentrated effort to orchestrate the news in the lead-up to this year's major political meetings. They followed guidelines designed to maintain the traditional cultural focus and political correctness of television movies and serials.

"In foreign countries, televisions are privately owned and you can broadcast whatever you want," Wang Weiping, deputy head of the series division at China's State Television, Film and Broadcasting Administration, told the Southern Weekend newspaper recently. "But in China, television is the mouthpiece of the party and the people. This is its main mission, and entertainment is secondary."

The national party congress, held every five years, is especially important to Hu, who has headed the party since 2002. It is the occasion for him to cement his leadership and install his followers in key positions, particularly in a new Politburo and its ruling nine-member Standing Committee.

"To create a proper atmosphere for the 17th party congress, we should sing high praises for socialism," Li Dongshen, deputy head of the propaganda department, told the assembled executives, according to the written record of the gathering. "We should sing loudly the main themes of our nation."

According to the record, Li recalled that he had recently banned eight books because they "ran the red light" of party limits on what is acceptable for publication. He said that the broadcast industry faces similar problems and that "we need to assure the correct leading direction of propaganda and promote cultural richness."

For instance, he urged the executives to continue publicizing the policies of economic reform and opening that began two decades ago and that Hu continues to champion. But he cautioned that there should be "no publicizing of pro-privatization comments."

Li's remarks appeared to be part of an effort to dampen a quiet controversy between the reform-minded people around Hu and disgruntled party conservatives who maintain that the reforms are being pursued too quickly, without concern for the social welfare of millions of Chinese. The pace at which unprofitable state-owned enterprises are being sold off has become one aspect of this debate. A proposed law to establish legal guarantees for private property has become another, likely to be discussed during the annual session of the National People's Congress that begins next week.

Li warned that exposing corruption by party officials, a major topic in government declarations, should be done "positively," with emphasis on the party's efforts to end it. In dealing with corruption, whether in news or entertainment programs, he said, television producers should take care not to emphasize corrupt officials' high living or numerous mistresses.

He also said news reports should avoid "inside stories" about flaws in the legal system and the party's attempts to control the news. "Go all out for articles that preserve social stability and avoid triggering social conflict," he added.

Finally, in the new Year of the Pig, Li warned, executives should take into account the sensitivities of China's 35 million Muslims, who consider pigs unclean and offensive. "In principle, touch on the character of the pig as little as possible," he said.

Researcher Jin Ling contributed to this report.

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