Addressing a gathering of news executives and propaganda officials in February 2016, President Xi Jinping laid out the core qualities that must define the media professional in China. Politics, he said, must always come first. Beyond professional expertise, journalists and media leaders “must have the heads of politicians.”
This injunction, echoing that of Mao Zedong, who said in the midst of a brutal crackdown on intellectuals 60 years ago that “politicians must run the newspapers,” has taken on fresh meaning for Chinese Internet firms this month. The government is now pushing to acquire “special management shares” in some of China’s largest tech companies -- including Tencent and Weibo -- giving it direct power over corporate decisions that have a bearing on the leadership's larger media control agenda.
These “special management shares,” generally between 1 and 2%, to be held by official agencies or trusted state media, would allow the government to influence company behavior from inside the boardroom, and to have direct access to innovative technologies.
Centralized Control Of Information
However worrying, this development should come as no surprise. China’s government, obsessed about maintaining centralized control of information, has been talking openly for several years now about creating a “special management share system” for media to improve ideological controls and reinforce Chinese Communist Party rule.
Control over mobile and online media especially has growing urgency for China’s leaders in a world increasingly shaped, and periodically disrupted, by advances in digital technology. The rules of that world are determined not by central planners, but by technology trailblazers responding to investors and consumers. Chinese tech companies, some listed on overseas exchanges, have never been wired into the Party-run media system, in which newspapers and traditional broadcasters are defined to this day as “mouthpieces,” or tools for Party propaganda -- and are overseen directly by Party committees.
Over the past two decades, the old media system, its controls exercised through the Party's Central Propaganda Department, has been seriously challenged by digital and commercial developments -- with profound ramifications for the government’s efforts to achieve what its calls “public opinion guidance,” or dominance of social and political agendas in order to maintain stability and Party legitimacy. To cite one of countless examples, Chinese media broadly ignored initial bans on coverage of a tragic high-speed rail collision in July 2011, as live accounts proliferated on the Internet and social media provided a release valve for widespread public outrage.
Since coming into office in November 2012, Xi has been far more resolute than his predecessors in breaking the cycle of media defiance. Recognising the new centrality of digital, he launched a leading group on cyberspace, with himself as chairman, and a new enforcement body, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), that made a sustained attack on social media and its most influential voices its first item of business. In his February 2016 address on media policy, Xi reaffirmed and re-consolidated the CCP’s paternalistic hold on the media, saying that they must all "be surnamed Party." And he made it very clear that this demand extended to commercial media and social networks.
The question, though, was how to bring Chinese tech firms, these new players, into the old family of trust and self-discipline. This is where the “special management share system” now comes in....MORE
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Control: "Beijing Eyes Stake In Every Influential Chinese Media Company"