Ng Yik-tung, Yeung Mak and Yang Fan | Radio Free Asia
The ruling Chinese Communist Party is strengthening its hold on all forms of public expression, enlarging its powerful propaganda department to absorb agencies responsible for regulating the mass media, and exporting its ideology to the rest of the world via a new mega-broadcaster.
As President Xi Jinping embarks on a second, unlimited term in office following the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) last week, he is presiding over a massive restructuring in which the ruling party will take over key government agencies and ministries.
“In order to strengthen the party’s centralized and unified leadership in public opinion work by the media, strengthen the management of publishing activities and develop a prosperous, socialist publishing industry with Chinese characteristics, the responsibilities of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) will be reassigned to the Central Propaganda Department,” the party’s central committee said in a directive published in state media this week.
“After this adjustment, the main responsibility of the Central Propaganda Department will be to implement the party’s propaganda guidelines,” it said, adding that the department will also formulate and implement media and publication policy and manage the sectors.
Among the biggest organizations in its stable will be the Voice of China, newly formed from the merger of China Central Television (CCTV), China National Radio and China Radio International and employing more than 14,000 people, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The mega-broadcaster will be tasked with “propagating the party’s theories, directions, principles and policies” as well as “telling good China stories,” it said.
A senior media professional who asked to remain anonymous said the new broadcaster was unlikely to base itself on the structure of the Voice of America, instead taking Russia Today (RT) as its model.
Beijing rights activist Hu Jia said the station has been set up with the aim of exporting China’s ideology beyond its borders.
“The Voice of China is under the control of the Central Propaganda Department,” Hu said. “This is an important tactic on Xi Jinping’s part, and a huge weapon in his hands to change the world’s opinion of this dictator and his autocratic one-party rule.”
“Xi has the self-confidence of a czar following the constitutional amendments, and now he wants to bravely lead the fight against mainstream values in the rest of the world,” he said.
“He will use authoritarian power to make Chinese lies sound nice, and engage in ideological infiltration and indoctrination.”
‘My country is awesome’
Hu said a foretaste of what is to come lies in the party propaganda documentary, “My country is awesome,” which party members were ordered to see, but which has also been screened overseas.
“It’s actually pretty awesome for the party,” he said.
Meanwhile, former 1989 student leader Wuer Kaixi, now based on the democratic island of Taiwan, said Xi’s new-found confidence is very dangerous to the rest of the world, however.
“For some time, Xi Jinping’s actions have been showing us … that he wants to transform his superpower diplomacy by this terrifying export of its values to the international community,” Wuer told RFA. “China’s blind confidence now is the result of decades of appeasement by the West.”
“This is an alarming signal,” he said. “The time has come for the entire world to face up to this challenge by the Chinese Communist Party.”
The propaganda department will also have responsibility for supervising national film production, distribution, and screening, organizing the review of film content, the directive said. It will also be responsible for managing “international cooperation.”
The import and export of all films, media, publications and other content will also be managed by the party, including any cooperation with overseas organizations.
Crushing public expression
Former China Youth Daily editor Li Datong, who posted and forwarded an open letter opposing indefinite presidential rule on the social media platform WeChat, likened the move to the massive Nazi propaganda takeover of books, newspapers and all forms of public speech in Germany during the 1930s.
“The party has now taken direct control of the government, so it’s basically like Nazi Germany under Joseph Goebbels’ [propaganda] system,” Li said. “The Nazi party took effective control of all areas of ideology.”
“It is another step towards the total crushing public expression and opinion, and any creativity and thought in cultural products.”
“There were previously still some areas where some gaps remained, because of the divisions in responsibility,” he said. “For example, if the propaganda department wanted to get rid of someone, they couldn’t do it without going through the system, for example via the [former] SAPPRFT.”
Li added: “Now, it’s easy for them. They can shut down whomever they like, just like the Nazi propaganda department did.”
Shaanxi-based journalist Ma Xiaoming said the propaganda department is more useful than the police or the military when it comes to wielding power.
“The central propaganda department is no less powerful than the ministry of defense or the police,” Ma said. “Ultimately, it manipulates people’s thoughts and ideas, and messes with their heads, and their ability to think critically.”
“It’s that old Chinese saying about winning hearts and minds before you try to take a city,” he said.
Xi’s crackdown on freedom of expression began soon after he assumed the presidency, and has broadened across all areas of mainstream and social media, as well as academia.
The media crackdown will go hand in hand with a new task force, the “Leading Group For Centralized Education Work,” located in the ministry of education, which will strengthen the party’s control over higher education and in schools, and “deploy ideological and political work in the field of education.”
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