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Chinese Journalists Must Pass Ideology Exam and Stick to Marxist View

The New York Times

New rules from the national media watchdog require reporters to build on the core value of socialism with weekly training.

Some 250,000 reporters in China will have to take an ideology exam to prove they will strictly adhere to the Marxist view of journalism and build the core value of socialism, as the government tightens control of the media.

New rules from the national media watchdog, the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, require journalists to take weekly training courses and pass an exam to qualify for their profession between January and February in 2014.

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"The training should focus on the textbooks compiled by the administration, which falls into six parts, including socialism with Chinese characteristics, the Marxist view of journalism, journalistic ethics, regulation on journalism, news reporting norms and preventing rumors," the Global Times reported.

These 700-page textbooks contain directives such as: "It is absolutely not permitted for published reports to feature any comments that go against the party line."

And in a separate development, the Hong Kong daily, the South China Morning Post, reported that senior local propaganda officials from the Communist Party would become heads or high-level officials of journalism programs at 10 top-tier universities, in an attempt to ensure their teaching is in line with authorities' directives.

The orders to keep a tight grip on propaganda come straight from the top.

In August at a national conference on propaganda and ideology, President Xi Jinping called for greater initiative to keep the media on-message.

"Publicity work is about the consolidation of the guiding role of Marxism on the ideological front, and the consolidation of the common ideological base for all party members and all the people," Xi told the conference, quoted by the Xinhua news agency.

It is the first time reporters have been required to take such a test, and it must be done every five years. The training is a time-consuming three hourlong sessions a week.

The Global Times article told of how journalism in China was considered a frustrating profession, with challenges ranging from "poor dating prospects to physical threats from local thugs."

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Chen Lidan, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that stressing the Marxist view of journalism means the government is strengthening its supervision over media.

Chinese journalism has been rocked by a number of scandalous developments this year, with reporters jailed for taking bribes.

In October, the New Express newspaper initially called for the release of one of its reporters, Chen Yongzhou, but the newspaper was forced to climb down after state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) ran a story showing a handcuffed and shaved-headed Chen confessing to running a series of untrue stories alleging financial crimes by a company "to gain money and fame."

The Chinese media is predominantly owned by the government and is kept on a tight leash, but in the last few years, there have been occasional clashes between Chinese media outlets and the authorities.

In January, journalists at Southern Weekend in Guangzhou took to the streets to protest after a propaganda official rewrote a New Year’s editorial on political reform. The protest was relatively tame but it was widely reported online. The official changed an editorial into a Communist Party tribute.

The Global Times quoted former Chinese leader Mao Zedong saying: "Newspapers should be operated by politicians." Yin Yungong, the director of a research center focusing on socialism with Chinese characteristics, agreed.

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"Marxism is the guiding thought of China, thus it's also significant to guide the media. Marxism aims to pursue benefits for the most and serve the country," Yin told the Global Times.

The tightening control of the media extends to foreign news organizations too, and reporters at The New York Times and Bloomberg have been left wondering if they would get their work visas renewed until the very last minute.

On Thursday, Dec. 19, China's foreign ministry granted Bloomberg journalists and some New York Times reporters press accreditation, which is the first step in proceeding with the visa application process.

Neither news organization has been given new journalist visas for more than a year after they published reports about the wealth of the families of the former premier Wen Jiabao and Mr. Xi.