CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping hit a trifecta of sorts on Friday with rare, high-profile visits to the newsrooms of China Central Television, the Xinhua news service and the People’s Daily newspaper, three organizations at the commanding heights of China’s Communist Party and state media. Mr. Xi’s message: They must serve the party with absolute loyalty and must “have the party as their family name.” Workers at the central television headquarters greeted Mr. Xi with a banner that said, “The central television’s family name is the party.”
Censorship and party pressure on journalists have long been the norm in China, but Mr. Xi’s appearances — and the fawning reaction of some news media workers — suggest a renewed attempt to tighten the reins and build a cult of personality around the Chinese leader. With a flourish, Mr. Xi posed at an anchor’s desk at the state television network. He instructed the media not only to hew to the party line but also to love it. “All work of the party’s news and public opinion media,” Mr. Xi said, “must reflect the will of the party, mirror the views of the party, preserve the authority of the party, preserve the unity of the party, and achieve love of the party, protection of the party and acting for the party.” And, he insisted, they must maintain “a high level of uniformity with the party in ideology, politics and action.”
The consequences of these attempts at thought control are already well entrenched in China: an authoritarian, paternalistic system that attempts to corral information and determine what the public can be told. It doesn’t always work in the digital age, but Chinese authorities haven’t quit trying. Mr. Xi’s declarations serve an important purpose, highlighting how China’s leadership views the news media as party handmaidens and loyal mouthpieces. In this view, there is no room for independent inquiry or questioning journalism.
At the same time, the Chinese government published new regulations that will ban foreign companies from publishing online media, games and other content within China’s borders. This is yet one more attempt to keep out any unwanted overseas influences. Mr. Xi seems determined to impose maximum control.
There was a time when many in the West hoped that open doors to China would let in fresh breezes of freedom. It was believed that greater trade and flows of intellectual property would bring ancillary benefits, improving conditions in human rights and democracy. It was thought that allowing China’s state news media an expanding foothold in the United States might also advance democratic values. It is past time to rethink such assumptions.