CASS Scholar: Communist Party and Government Control China's Media

April 4, 2005

Ji Weimin, a researcher with the News and Broadcasting Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, discusses the relationship among "public opinion supervision," the government's control of the media, and journalists' ethics in a March 21 article. The article was originally published in the Study Times, a Communist Party School publication, and was subsequently carried on the Web site of the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper. Thus, the views expressed in the article can fairly be said to represent the views of the Chinese Communist Party.

Entitled "Public Opinion Supervision: A Power? A Tool? A Responsibility?," Mr. Ji’s article is confusing and contains several self-contradictory statements. He appears to contend that, although Chinese journalists work for organizations that are divisions of Party or government agencies, they are not government employees. Ji also seems to claim that, while journalists are citizens, and citizens enjoy freedom of the press, journalists do not have any inherent right to report news.

See below for further analysis.



Ji begins with a discussion of the concept of "public opinion supervision," which he defines as "a kind of objective result produced by the masses utilizing the suggestive means of public opinion to freely express their views to all types of authorities and their personnel, as well as public figures (including famous journalists)."

While Ji's definition of "public opinion supervision" is opaque, his discussion regarding its implementation is similar to that in the CECC's 2004 Annual Report. According to Ji:

In fact, currently public opinion supervision and media supervision are considered to be one and the same. China's primary mass media are state assets directly controlled by the Party and the government, and are organizations that are either directly or indirectly divisions of Party or government agencies, or lead by the Party. While it is the media that acts as the critic in exercising the public opinion supervision function, the media's major critical reports must usually receive instructions or permission from their managing government agency, and public opinion supervision texts are generally perceived as being the opinion of a government or Party organization at one level or another. Looked at in this way, at a certain level public opinion supervision is an extension of, or supplement to, the authority of the Party and the government.

Having thus established that in China journalists work for Party and government agencies, Ji goes on to claim that journalists should not consider themselves to be civil servants: "Journalists are ordinary citizens with specialized skills, and are not government employees." This claim is curious, not only in light of Ji's foregoing characterization of the relationship between China's media and the Party and the government, but also with respect to a recent Xinhua story that criticized local government officials for interfering with a Xinhua reporter because he was a "Party journalist" and "central government reporter." Ji's article muddles the question of whether journalists are public servants further when he states that "Journalists possess the freedom to gather news and report only because they are serving citizens' freedom of speech and press."

Ji states that it is the journalists' "misconception" that they have the "authority" of a government employee that is leading them to abandon media ethics and distort the original intent of public opinion supervision. Ji suggests that the solution to this problem is for journalists, media groups, the media industry, and the government to implement stronger "self-discipline systems."

In certain respects Ji's article is representative of recent Party and government propaganda efforts to justify increased regulation of China's media. For example:

  • An editorial in China Journalist (a monthly publication of Xinhua) published in September, 2004, stated: "The implementation of proper supervision of public opinion must be carried out in a manner that benefits the Party's line, direction, and policies . . . and encourages the strengthening of the people's faith in the Party and the government."
  • According to a People's Daily editorial published in January, 2005, at the 4th Plenum of the 16th Party Congress, the Party decided to "emphasize 'insisting on the principle of the Party controlling the media, strengthening their ability to guide public opinion, and taking the initiative in public opinion guidance work.'"
  • Also in January 2005, the People's Daily quoted Liu Binjie, deputy director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, as saying: "With regards to marketized media, we must strengthen administrative legislating, and use the law to ensure that the guidance of public opinion and publishing direction are correct. At the same time we can also use economic measures to ensure the correctness of the guidance of public opinion."

Nevertheless, although Ji does include government regulation in his list of proposed solutions, he places it last, and states that the area in most need of attention is industry self-discipline. It is not possible to determine whether this was an attempt to advocate self regulation over government regulation, or simply done in recognition that China's regulation of journalists is already almost absolute.