Journalists receive training at the Great Hall of the People on March 1, 2009. Photo: CFP
From June to January, over 300,000 people working in the media industry throughout the country are expected to receive training on journalism with Marxist values, according to an announcement jointly issued by four government departments.
Citing the fact that the modern media field is more "complicated" than ever before, the announcement said that media staff need to take on more responsibility, an anonymous official in charge of the training told Xinhua on August 26, adding that the Internet has become a battleground for public opinion, and that a lack of responsible behavior has led to many people "breaking the rules."
These cases have been making headlines in recent times, with a campaign against rumors in full swing around the country, and journalists are among those being arrested.
The key question has become whether or not this training will be enough to equip modern media workers with the skills to help resolve the situation.
The announcement, which came from four organizations, including government and Communist Party of China (CPC) publicity and communication organs, said that the development of Internet technology had changed the media landscape. It also pointed out that young people make up the majority of media workers, and the "ideological quality" of young people has changed.
It also said that some of them had an "indifferent sense of social responsibility," were flippant, and often violated discipline and Party principles, which had triggered the training.
Li Fei (pseudonym), a journalist with China Central Television (CCTV), said he believes the courses have been useful, but he admits that the classes were more about ideology than professionalism.
Li attended the three-hour training session in late June, which lasted three hours in the morning, as part of a group of 400 reporters and editors.
The classes are led by a professor, who is an expert on Marxism, though Li questioned how relevant the material is for modern journalism.
"I think it's more about ideology, and very little about journalism theory or practice," Li said.
The professor talked about "universal values" from an academic angle, stating that the so-called universal values from the West are not necessarily suitable for China.
"There are too many negative emotions on the Internet, and reporters and editors are more influenced than other people," said the professor, adding that more positive news and emotions should be expressed.
Despite some reservations, Li believes the training had merit. "At least it reminds me to be aware of the need to express positive things," he said.
In the past, media outlets were affiliated with government departments and organizations, but now many have become market-oriented, a transformation that lies at the heart of this ideological training - experts point out that the pursuit of profit often means the pursuit of sensationalism.
Chen Lidan, a professor on journalism theory with the Renmin University of China, said that the training is necessary because of the unprecedented problems facing the industry. "Journalism has become a profession but some people in the industry don't have a sense of professionalism," Chen said. "The media should report facts without bias," he said, adding that opinion commentary is fine but it shouldn't seep into standard reporting.
Chen views the Marxism classes as being more about professionalism than about ideology, but Li Baoshan, a director with the Qiushi (seeking truth) journal, justifies importance of the training quite differently in an article, Adhering to the Marxist view of journalism.
Li Baoshan wrote that the system of journalism practiced in China is superior to that of the West, as the Western view lacks a guiding ideology, while also pointing out that "common standards" of journalism, such as objectivity, justice and balance, are also emphasized in the Marxist view.
"The common standards should always come first for news, as a working principle. Ideological properties can then follow," said Chen, adding that the standard is universal either for media in China or the West.
Li Baoshan said that the country can't lose the battle for public opinion, and that too much negative news is being reported.
Currently, officials in different levels of government departments are not qualified enough to meet the challenges caused by overly open opinion environment, he wrote.
Thus, too much criticism will harm the government's reputation and impair the implementation of the government's policies.
In an effort to tackle the problem, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping called for greater initiative in publicity work, and urged officials to publicize the CPC's theories, guidelines, decisions and judgments on major issues, and safeguard the fundamental rights and interests of the people, Xinhua reported.
Chen said that publicizing extreme views is not good for China's reputation in the international community, and that the spread of concepts that go against the will of the people is the main problem facing the media industry.
His comments come at a time when both journalists and media outlets have become entangled in the spread of rumors and false information, and thousands of people around the country have been arrested for spreading rumors online. In a recent example, Liu Hu, a reporter with the Guangzhou-based New Express, was arrested at his home in Chongqing on August 23 by Beijing police.
He was suspected of fabricating rumors, after he posted comments on Weibo on July 29 saying that Ma Zhengqi, a deputy head of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, had been involved in the loss of State assets when Ma worked in Chongqing.
The case is still under investigation.
Chen pointed out that it is possible for reporters to become involved in spreading rumors if they forget concepts like objectivity, justice or balance. "Everyone tends to say what's in their interests, and journalists sometimes risk becoming a 'megaphone' for others" Chen said.
Yu Hai, a sociology professor with Fudan University, said that rumormongers should be brought to justice if there is a specific victim, but due process must be obeyed. "Otherwise it could be viewed as cracking down on public opinion," Yu said, adding that due to the nature of the media industry, inevitably there will sometimes be inaccurate reports.