Chinese Government To Introduce Qualification Exam for Journalists in 2010

April 21, 2010

A high-level official at the General Administration of Press and Publication, the Chinese government's main regulator of the press, said on March 10, 2010, that aspiring journalists in China will be required to pass a new qualification exam that will test them on their knowledge of "Chinese Communist Party journalism" and Marxist views of news. Journalists who do not pass the exam will not be allowed to apply for a job in the news industry. This development comes amid continued efforts by the Chinese government to restrict media coverage of events deemed politically sensitive, such as major political meetings in March and the Google controversy, as well as official concern over unregulated news reporting on China's fast-growing Internet.

The Deputy Director of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) said on March 10, 2010, that the government will introduce a qualification exam this year which prospective Chinese journalists must pass in order to apply for a job, according to a March 11 South China Morning Post (SCMP) article (subscription required). The director, Li Dongdong, said that the exam will include an ideological requirement. "No matter what your field of study, if you are not taught about the history of Chinese Communist Party journalism, the Marxist view of news and media ethics, you cannot pass the tests," Li is quoted as saying in the SCMP article. In a March 8 interview with Xinhua, Li also made the following statement:

Next, we will implement a professional qualification entrance system for news workers. We will use news professional qualification entrance standards to ensure that all comrades who will enter the frontlines of news reporting first study the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and receive training on the Marxist view of news, training in journalist ethics, and training about the Party's news propaganda discipline. Our news workers can never lose this "spirit", which is a news worker's sense of political and historical responsibility...

Chinese officials already require journalists to adhere to the Party line but this development gives officials another tool to screen journalists for their political credentials. Already, journalists in China are required to obtain a license, or press card, from the government to practice their profession. The regulations governing the administration of such cards, the Measures for Administration of News Reporter Cards, require journalists to abide by "news workers' professional ethics" (Article 9, Paragraph 1). The current ethics code, the China News Workers' Code of Professional Ethics, which the All China Journalists Association (ACJA) revised in November 2009, requires journalists to "be loyal to the Party" (Article 1), "persist in correct guidance of public first place to positive propaganda" (Article 1), "abide by the Party's discipline for news workers" (Article 6), and "persist in being guided by the major thoughts of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, and the 'Three Represents' [associated with former President Jiang Zemin]" (Preamble).

Chinese journalists have been subject to politically based qualification exams in the past. In 2005, officials introduced a qualification exam for broadcast journalists under rules that limit who may work in radio or television journalism to those persons who endorse the ideology and policies of the Party.

The new professional qualification entrance exam comes amid a Party- and government-organized campaign aimed at ensuring the ideological purity of the growing ranks of young journalists in China. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China reported on this campaign, dubbed the "Three Items To Study and Learn," in its 2009 Annual Report (pp. 54-55). As noted in the 2009 Annual Report, the campaign is led by the Communist Party's Central Propaganda Department (CPD) and Central Office for Overseas Publicity, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, GAPP, and ACJA, and calls for "further strengthening the political quality of editors and journalists" and "guaranteeing the correct orientation of news propaganda work." On February 21, 2010, Xinhua reported that those entities had revived the campaign for 2010 in part to "unceasingly strengthen the political responsibility of news workers."

Other recent incidents highlight the government and Party's control over the Chinese news media:

  • The Communist Party, through the CPD and other agencies, frequently issues directives to news media on what they can or cannot report. On March 21, 2010, the New York Times (NYT) released an English translation of a directive issued jointly by the CPD and China's Bureau of Internet Affairs before the March 2010 annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Consultative Conference. The directive barred media from reporting on citizens demanding that officials publicize their finances, negative news on front pages or headlines, and features on petitioners, among other stories.
  • In the wake of Google’s March 22 announcement that it would redirect users of its mainland Chinese search engine to its uncensored Hong Kong site, Chinese officials reportedly ordered domestic news Web sites not to report information released by Google, to play down Chinese citizens' displays of support for Google, and to publish only stories put out by the central government media, according to a March 25 Washington Post reprint of instructions reportedly issued by propaganda officials that first appeared on China Digital Times.
  • During the NPC session, Li Hongzhong, the governor of Hubei province, reportedly berated and seized the audio recorder of a reporter who identified herself as a journalist for the People's Daily, the Party's flagship newspaper, according to another March 21 NYT article. "So you're from a party paper," the article quoted Governor Li as saying. "Is this how a party paper guides public opinion? I'm going to the chief of your paper!"
  • In early March the CPD reportedly issued a warning to top editors at the Chinese newspaper, Economic Observer, after it and 12 other newspapers jointly published an editorial calling for reform of China's household registration, or hukou, system, according to a March 10 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report. Zhang Hong, an editor and co-author of the editorial, reportedly was removed from his position. The WSJ report did not indicate who removed Zhang. For more information on the editorial, see a CECC analysis.
  • In a February 22, People's Daily interview, an unnamed GAPP official, noting concern about the Internet's role in disseminating news, emphasized legal requirements preventing commercial Web sites and unlicensed "Internet journalists" from independently reporting news on the Internet. The official said that commercial Web sites are not news organizations and thus "are not qualified to legally report or originally issue news." The official said that the only news Web sites that were allowed to originally report news were "traditional media" already licensed by the government and authorized to apply for press cards for their journalists (see Articles 4 and 12 of the Measures for Administration of News Reporter Cards). The official cited as examples the news Web sites of traditional media such as (of the Communist Party's flagship newspaper People's Daily) and (of the central government's news agency). The official said that at most commercial Web sites could obtain government approval only to re-post news (in apparent reference to the Provisions on the Administration of Internet News Information Services). The official also took aim at independent online journalists, saying that the "publicly complained about so-called 'Internet journalists'" were illegal and citing what authorities have noticed as some in China setting up "so-called" anti-corruption and other Web sites to pose as licensed journalists and extract bribes.

The Chinese government claims that government licensing and supervision of journalists and editors is needed to prevent corruption and to protect journalists.

For more information on Chinese restrictions on the press, see the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's 2009 Annual Report (pp. 50-58).