Reeducation through Marxism

By Lin Meilian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-1 21:13:01

Journalists take part in a training session for central-level State media correspondents ahead of the annual National People's Congress convention in Beijing on March 1, 2009. Photo: CFP

Perhaps the best way to get a better understanding of the Marxist view of journalism is to think of Marx himself as a journalist, and not as a political thinker, Zhu Songmei, a journalism student of Tsinghua University said while expressing her view on the controversial Marxist ideology class now being made compulsory for all journalists in China.

"It is necessary to understand Marxism as that's what we promote, but I doubt if it is that useful in real life," Zhu told the Global Times, adding that she wants to join a mainstream media outlet such as the People's Daily or Xinhua News Agency after graduation.

In future, students of China's top 10 journalism schools including Fudan University and Renmin University of China will have the chance to reach a closer understanding of Marx's principle that "Party publications are weapons of the Party."

It is part of reform measures for journalism schools that aim to boost education on the Marxist view of journalism and cultivate outstanding journalists for the Party, according to a meeting held by the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee and the Ministry of Education on December 20. The move follows an earlier announcement that some 250,000 working journalists will, for the first time, have to take a Marxism test to obtain or renew their press cards.

Some Chinese observers speculate that the probable reason behind these moves is that authorities believe that Western ideology prevails in journalism education, and the Internet has weakened their control of information. 

Li Baoshan, editor-in-chief of Qiushi Magazine, a political periodical run by the Central Party School, explained the importance of consciously persisting with the Marxist view of journalism in the August issue, stating that "currently China cannot accept the consequences of losing the public opinion war."

"At present, China is in a period of development opportunities and manifold contradictions. Local governments' management levels and the overall quality of cadre teams are still not high," Li wrote. "Excessive public opinion criticism might harm the government's credibility, and foreign forces might bring chaos to China."

"The level of press freedom will continue to expand, and this process has been developing," he continued.

School reforms

The news that the top 10 journalism schools would be reformed was officially reported by Xinhua, saying provincial publicity departments had signed an agreement on a joint teaching program with journalism schools to strengthen education of the Marxist news outlook.

The news was brief yet powerful. The announcement, first leaked on social media, led to heated debate over whether the authorities were placing further controls on journalists or improving their quality.

An inside source who attended the meeting told the Global Times that the notification includes having provincial publicity department officials serve as deans of journalism schools.

"This completely overturns the position of supervisor and those being supervised," he said.

However, Huang Hu, Standing Vice-Dean of the Journalism School of Fudan University, the first university to cooperate with the local publicity department, told the Global Times that the joint teaching program is beneficial for students.

"The joint teaching program provides us rich resources that will eventually benefit our students," Huang said. "The educational funds provided by the Ministry of Education are limited after all."

Students of these joint programs will be given priority in working or interning in mainstream media. The Fudan model will be promoted in other journalism schools to cultivate journalists, Huang said.

Moreover, earlier in June, the central Publicity Department and the Ministry of Education also announced a 10-year training plan to cultivate outstanding journalism talents. According to the plan, 500 outstanding reporters and editors will be selected to teach part-time or full-time in journalism schools. In return, 500 school teachers will be placed in news organizations in the first five years.

Making a comeback

The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 marked a watershed in the country's journalism education. Marxist-Leninist theories were introduced into journalism programs. Later on, journalism education favored courses on both theories and cultures that better suited Chinese practice.

When China opened its doors to the world in the 1980s, Chinese media adopted diversified reporting styles including critical reports on social issues to attract more viewers and advertisers. As the media industry boomed, many people became reporters without going through traditional journalism training.

To meet the demands resulting from increasing interaction with the outside world, bilingual journalism education that used US journalism textbooks for theory and writing courses were introduced in five universities in the 1980s. Over the years, many students have learned how to report news in English and the Marxist-Leninist theories are no longer on the list of curriculums in some schools, according to Guo Ke, a journalism professor at Shanghai International Studies University.

This has become a source of concern for those who believe that Chinese journalism education is too close to that of the West. Many feel that this is probably why Marxism is on its way back to journalism schools.

Journalism students reached by the Global Times voiced different concerns. Yu Qiongyuan, a student of the Communication University of China who studied the Marxist view of journalism, said it is necessary.

"As a journalist, you have to equip yourself with different theories, including Marxism," Yu said. "It might be hard to understand but it is going to be useful in future exams and training."

Wei Mengjiao, who graduated from the journalism department of Hubei University, said the theories are not that useful for reporting.

"The class was boring. I doubt if anyone really listened to what the teacher said, but it was an open-book exam so it was easy to pass," Wei said.

Liu Xiaoying, a professor of media research at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times that it depends on the teaching style.

"The media landscape has changed dramatically. It would be interesting if we combined the theory with the reality," Liu said.

Social responsibility

Liu said the reform will focus on journalistic ethics and standards and teach journalism students how to be socially responsible reporters.

"The media industry is messy. Many joined the industry without going through proper training, and that might cause problems in the future," Liu said.

Huang agrees, saying many reporters are socially irresponsible. "The lack of social responsibility is the root of all the problems in the media. Reporters are only concerned about how much money they make," he said.

Earlier in October, reporter Chen Yongzhou of the Guangzhou-based New Express was detained before confessing on TV that he had accepted bribes to fabricate critical stories. The newspaper later apologized to the public and promised to enforce stricter policies over its reporters.

This month, a similar case was reported. Xiong Xiong, the chief editor of Technology News at Beijing Youth Daily, was arrested for selling the placement of news stories. Xiong had reported on technology news for over a decade, and allegedly always took money for stories.

However, a journalism professor who refused to be identified told the Global Times that the decline of ethics in journalism is due to inadequate space of media practice.

"When they see that many professional reporters who stick to the rules become the targets of attack, they eventually give up on those ethical codes and try to make a profit out of the system," he said.

Professor Liu, on the other hand, thinks the government is making progress on how to work with media in two ways.

Cracking down on irresponsible remarks or rumors on the Internet is the first step, especially targeting well-known bloggers on social media known as Big V's. Chinese-American venture capitalist Charles Xue, known by his online handle Xue Manzi and who has over 12 million followers on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, was detained on charges of soliciting prostitutes in August.

Meanwhile, the government has learned how to respond to people's concerns through media, Liu added.

"You can't simply say it is heavy media control," Liu explains. "The government used to keep its mouth closed so the media reported the news irresponsibly. Now it has learned how to speak out the truth through the media."

How does one become socially responsible? Hu Zhanfan, the new president of CCTV, drew fire from his answer on the Internet when he urged journalists to drop their professionalism.

"The first social responsibility and professional ethic of media staff should be to understand their role clearly and be a good mouthpiece," Hu wrote.

His comment was shared over 10,000 times and attracted sharp criticism by Internet users.

And why does media always give first priority to positive news? The answer can be found in an article by Li Baoshan, editor-in-chief of Qiushi Magazine.

"Indeed, negative news satisfies people's curiosity and is more attractive than positive news, but that is not our news view," Li wrote.

"Positive news is the mainstream of our society," Li continued. "Only by reporting positive news can we truly reflect the complete picture of our society."

Zhao Jingshu contributed to this story

Posted in: In-Depth

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