China’s top leaders are considering “cultural reforms”, state media reported, which analysts said would be aimed at boosting official control over the media and Internet to shape public opinion. A meeting chaired by President Hu Jintao on Monday called for the “mastering of new trends in cultural development” and for an emphasis on “Chinese characteristics” as part of the proposed overhaul, Xinhua news agency said.
Details on the draft changes to be considered by Communist Party leaders next month were not given, but analysts said they would likely tighten Beijing’s grip on newspapers, television and popular social networking sites. “All cultural controls have the essential political mission to shape the people’s mind to not directly challenge the party rule, to accept the status quo,” a media expert at the University of California at Berkeley said. “It highlights their nervousness and their awareness of the increasing challenges to their ability to control the cultural sphere”, Xiao Qiang added.
For the past decade Beijing has been encouraging state-run media to be more competitive and less reliant on state subsidies, which has led to more critical reporting and racier programming as outlets compete for readers and viewers. But the trend towards more free-wheeling reporting has undermined official efforts to control public opinion, and unnerved authorities who have seen previously obedient media outlets criticise their decisions and defy orders to tow the Communist Party line.
The huge and rising popularity of weibos - microblogs similar to Twitter that have taken China by storm since they first launched two years ago - has also posed major challenges to censors and fuelled official concerns. There is “this anxiety over the influence of these truly commercially operating media which have gained a lot of strength in the past decade and have huge audiences,” said David Bandurski of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. “You really have seen the progressive loss of control by the official media and in recent years they have been trying to re-grab that agenda.”
To combat the popularity of the Internet and fluffier provincial programming, China Central Television (CCTV) - the government’s broadcast mouthpiece - plans to revamp its flagship news programmes from next year, previous reports said. CCTV also recently replaced its main news anchors with two younger presenters. Propaganda authorities also have placed two of Beijing’s most popular and colourful newspapers, “Beijing News” and “Beijing Times”, under new management in a move decried by critics as an effort to censor the news.