Beijing Water

Beijing gives the media new marching orders

Kelly Haggart

June 26, 2002

China’s media have been ordered to follow the lead of the official Xinhua news agency when covering the controversial south-north water-transfer project, Hong Kong’s Mingpao newspaper reports.

Propaganda departments around the country have been instructed to tighten their grip on local news media to create “the correct ideological atmosphere” in the run-up to an important Communist Party congress this fall.

The controversial water-diversion project appears on a list of 32 topics, divided into three categories, that news editors must either never touch, must handle with care, or must take their cues from Xinhua in reporting.

“A group of people has been trying to question the big-money water-transfer scheme, launching repeated attacks on it,” the newspaper said. “Chinese authorities appear to be trying everything possible to avoid a repeat of the political chaos of the 1980s, when the heated debate over the Three Gorges dam became a top story throughout the country.” The guidelines issued by the Party’s central propaganda department single out urban dailies, which are often more daring in their coverage, as requiring “special attention.”

Mingpao said that a more disciplined media would help promote national stability and development in advance of the Party congress, at which top leaders, including National People’s Congress chairman Li Peng and Premier Zhu Rongji, are due to step down.

As Chinese officials attempt to rein in the three traditional media (print, radio and television), they are also increasingly concerned about controlling access to the Internet. The mayor of Beijing recently closed all the capital’s Internet cafes after a fire at an unlicensed site in the university district killed 23 people earlier this month. Only cafes that have been granted an official licence – or about 200 of an estimated 2,400 Internet cafes thought to be operating in Beijing – will be allowed to reopen after further inspection, Britain’s Guardian newspaper has reported.

* * *

The Three Categories

1. Forbidden:

  • Advocating the Constitution be amended to recognize private-property rights
  • The Xiwang gongcheng [Hope education project] donation scandal
  • Sensitive stories involving religion in ethnic-minority areas
  • Referring to Taiwan as a nation or anything like a nation
  • Photos and pictures depicting violence or sex
  • Details of horrific violence
  • Western news reports must not be used in compiling international news
  • Stories that mention Chinese eating dogs that Westerners regard as specialty breeds
  • Policies on the press, and film and television industries
  • Advocating the role of the media as “the fourth estate”
  • Inaccurate reports about foreign celebrities
  • Fake and sensationalized stories

2. Report with greater caution:

  • Tax reforms in rural China
  • Student loans
  • Research involving human genetic resources
  • Entrepreneurs elected as delegates to the Party’s national congress
  • Ordinary people who accuse officials of wrongdoing
  • Entrepreneurs who become rich
  • Villages involved in blood-selling; China’s Forbes-style richest-people list; protests in the countryside over high taxes and fees
  • High-spending lifestyles
  • People who fight corruption
  • Teaching of Confucian ethics in primary schools
  • Polarization of rich and poor
  • The ranking of universities; villagers’ appeals to higher authorities for help; direct elections at the village level
  • New ideas, such as taxpayers’ money supporting the work of government
  • Shocks to domestic industries after China’s entry into the World Trade Organization
  • The ranking of students who have written the national college-admission exam
  • Restrict the amount of negative news
  • World Cup soccer

3. Follow Xinhua’s lead:

  • Major accidents
  • Animal epidemics
  • Tibet railway project and the south-north water-transfer project

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