Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a visit to the China Central TV headquarters last Friday, where he spoke to US-based staff via videoconference. He urged the international team to portray the Chinese economy truthfully and objectively and to “promote Chinese culture” and “build bridges of friendship.”
He also visited China’s three biggest Communist Party and state news outlets, where he demanded biao tai (a pledge of loyalty), something he has also demanded of military leaders and other influential figures during the past year.
The Chinese media treated Mr. Xi’s public appearances as they would the visit of a god. The president’s visits appeared on the front page of every newspaper. Photos showed journalists fawning around their beloved leader. One official even wrote Mr. Xi a poem.
The adulation he received is a disgusting display from a country that has no First Amendment rights. In America, we attack our political leaders because we can (and sometimes they deserve it). In China, this is not so. The communist nation’s blanket coverage of Mr. Xi’s visits reflect the policy he announced during a previous tour: the Chinese media exists only as a propaganda tool serving the Community Party.
Since 2012, when Mr. Xi became the state’s top leader, the Communist Party has been tightening the noose on mainstream media. “All news media run by the Party must work to speak for the Party’s will and its propositions, and protect the Party’s authority and unity,” said Mr. Xi to officials on Friday. President Xi aims to push his Party’s message both domestically and internationally through all forms of media, including entertainment and advertising.
This is a significant shift from Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor. Hu believed state-run media should be responsive to the modern digital environment, shaping and channeling public opinion.
Mr. Xi is also trying to limit the presence of foreign media companies, which threatens to put every citizens in the world’s most populous country out of touch with reality. No doubt Mr. Xi is growing nervous as he faces pressure regarding China’s struggling economy – not to mention partywide corruption and mass frustration with pollution.
“It is necessary for the media to restore people’s trust in the Party, especially as the economy has entered a new normal and suggestions that it is declining and dragging down the global economy have emerged,” reads an essay in the English-language newspaper China Daily. “The nation’s media outlets are essential to political stability, and the leadership cannot afford to wait for them to catch up with the times.”
Presdient Xi’s directives don’t just affect the Chinese. His new rules would also make it harder for foreign governments – including the US – to determine which Chinese media sources are legitimate and which are propaganda agents. “Despite the continuing tightening of control of the media over the last three years, Xi is not fully assured that the state media, even the most central ones such as Xinhua and CCTV, are fully under his control,” explained Berkeley scholar Xiao Qiang.
Mr. Xi’s policies also target movies, social networks, and books. His latest regulation will prevent foreign companies from publishing online content. Those who dare to speak out against the almighty Xi, even online, are considered criminals. Xi’s new regulations seriously threaten companies with operations in China, such as Apple and Microsoft.
Meanwhile, all journalists have been ordered to “strictly adhere to the news viewpoint of Marxism.”
Some believe Xi’s actions betray a deep feeling of insecurity. “The most important thing is for him to announce his absolute authority,” says historian Zhang Lifan. “He doesn’t feel effective and confident in dealing with problems…he worries the Chinese Communist Party will lose political power, and he also worries that his peers will shove him from his position.”