China media boss says propaganda good, journalism bad

The new boss of CCTV, China’s state TV network, Hu Zhanfan, says it like it is.

He believes Chinese journalists should first and foremost be the Chinese government’s mouthpiece and those that don’t play ball won’t go far.

“The first social responsibility and professional ethic of media staff should be understanding their role clearly and be a good mouthpiece.”

Hu, a former newspaper editor, made these comments several months ago, but they only started causing a stir among Chinese web users over the weekend when the original Xinhua News report was posted on Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging site.

One web user compared Hu to Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels.

Below are pasted some of Hu’s comments from that Xinhua report, translated by the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project.

“A number of news workers have not defined their own role in terms of the propaganda work of the Party, but rather have defined themselves as journalism professionals, and this is a fundamentally erroneous role definition. Strengthening education in the Marxist View of Journalism and raising the quality and character of news teams is not just very necessary, it is a matter of extreme urgency.

“Concerning social responsibility and professional ethics, editor-in-chief Hu Zhanfan believes that the first and foremost social responsibility [of journalists] is to serve well as a mouthpiece tool. This is the most core content of the Marxist View of Journalism, and it is the most fundamental of principles.”

Who is Hu Xijin? Behind the scenes at “China’s Fox News”

One of the most curious newspapers to come out of China in recent years is the English-language edition of the Global Times.

Owned by the People’s Daily group, it is one of only two national papers published in English in mainland China, alongside the long-standing, less sensational China Daily.
Hu XijinWhen the tabloid was launched by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin in 2009, Westerners hired as editors were told their aim was to steal China Daily’s readership by covering stories its rival and the rest of the domestic media would not dare cover. Hu has certainly kept his promise: over the years the paper has touched on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the detention earlier this year of dissident artist Ai Weiwei (including an exclusive interview with Ai on his release), and the house arrest of blind human rights lawyer Chen Chuangcheng. Its tone moves between hyper-nationalism and a more objective reflection on typically “sensitive” topics.

The Global Times is now so notorious among Western journalists that the paper itself has become a news story. Last week, Foreign Policy dubbed it “China’s Fox news“. The Global Times quickly responded with its own editorial saying: “the quality of the article didn’t live up to what we expect from the Western media.”  Touché!

In order to find out more about the man, and the tabloid he has created, Index went behind the scenes to talk to Western editors and reporters at the tabloid. Because staff are forbidden to discuss the paper with Western media, we cannot disclose their names.

Their comments cast Hu as enthusiastic character who enjoys controversy and has a thing for Chinese film star Gong Li. Here’s a selection.


I rather liked him… I think of him as a William Randolph Hearst [Citizen Kane] of Chinese journalism. He’s an excitable boy, a rakish liar. He loves to hear himself hold forth and says his biggest regret is not seeing enough of his teenage daughter because he works so late. He has a vintage poster of Gong Li in his modestly-appointed office. No other real decorations.

He knows really very little about US foreign or political policies but is very quick to jump on the idea that US is itching to drop a bomb or two on China.

He loves controversy and courts it — whether it’s an editorial in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times or Financial Times quoting Global Times for some addled hysterical stance or some trouble with the more conservative People’s Daily types.

He’s also a hypocrite, of course. He had a reporter [called Wen Tao] fired for tweeting from an all-Chinese news meeting where he had assured the staff that Global Times would print anything without fear or favour. That reporter later found a gig as an assistant for Ai Weiwei and was arrested with him, before being released at about the same time Ai was.


What most people don’t realise about the paper unless they have the hard copy in front of them is that whenever a sensitive news story is covered, they always run an editorial with the official line to balance it out. So, for example when Ai Weiwei was arrested they ran the story of his arrest and then, as if to cover their backs, they ran that famous and oft-quoted opinion piece.


He has a vision. He knows what he’s doing and he knows his audience. I think he wants to make Chinese journalism relevant and that’s why he is inflammatory on purpose. It really is sabre-rattling.

In China you can’t get away from top-down journalism. Criticism can only be levelled at lower officials, you can’t go any higher.

And these criticisms give the illusion that the Global Times is impartial. Hu wants these to give the paper credibility.

Yes, he’s taking a lot of cues from Fox News. He’s learnt how to prod his readership, to rally them.

Hu is always smiling, but he shouts at a lot at the Chinese staff, and forbids them from talking to the foreign press.