What About The Truth?

Here is an excerpt from an interesting post by The China Beat titled “Boss Hu and the Press”:-

“First of all, what makes Hu’s speech interesting is his acknowledgement of new developments in the Chinese media industry. In particular, Hu mentions the popular urban dailies (dushibao, such as Nanfang dushibao, the cutting edge investigative paper from Guangzhou) and the Internet as crucially important new components of the Chinese media landscape……. Hu elevates the product of the Party’s media reforms and the commercialization of the press sector and gives them legitimacy within the Party-dominated public sphere. In a similar vein, the electronic and web-based media are now officially incorporated into the CCP’s media theory – as demonstrated by Hu’s ‘chat’ with surfers at the Strong Nation Forum.

However, Hu Jintao is quick to balance the newly emerging media and their counterpart, the Party press, and lay down an authoritative definition of the respective roles of the two media types: ‘With the Party papers and broadcasting stations as the mainstay...’ – the commercial papers are supplementing the role of the Party press, but are by no means supposed to replace the latter…….. Hu Jintao acknowledges the existence of a ‘multi-layered public opinion’ and the need to take all these layers into account in the Party’s propaganda work. That seems to be evidence for a more sophisticated and flexible approach to thought work and propaganda.

Propaganda, however, is the core theme of Hu’s speech, and it remains the defining framework for the Chinese press of the 21st century. The overall parameters have changed remarkably little……..

No fear of media openness, then; the CCP has demonstrated its ability to open up temporarily but quickly rein in the media once a return to its close control of the media was deemed desirable.”

Is there any truth in Nicolai Volland’s (author of the above article) observation that the electronic and web-based media are now officially incorporated into the CCP’s media theory, meaning that the internet is being co-opted as part of the propaganda machine?

Something has just happened, known as the Weng’an mass incident, and from the way things have turned out, as described in ESWN’s post titled “Signal-to-Noise Ratio”, it would appear that the authorities are putting the Party’s directive into practice. Here is an excerpt of ESWN’s post:-

“In the case of the Weng'an mass incident, the major portals were deleting the related posts as quickly as possible. At Tianya Forum, it was estimated that a Weng'an-related post has an average lifetime of 15 seconds before being deleted by the administrators. That was supposed to be a record speed. The same thing was happening at Sina.com, Sohu.com, Baidu, etc. So this was building massive dams all over the map which builds up a tremendous pressure. Where was the pressure release point? You may be amazed that it was over at the Xinhua Forum. The webmasters posted the official Xinhua news story on the forum. That does not help in itself because Chinese netizens think that this Xinhua story was vague and misleading. However, the webmasters allowed the comments to run freely. This meant that the Xinhua posts became the meeting points of all those who want to talk about the Weng'an incident but could not do so elsewhere. Although that post did not contain any news information (such as photos and videos), it was a place for people to vent their outrage. As a result, Xinhua got a record-setting number of visitors who were very appreciative. Is this the plan for the future? You'll find out at the next mass incident (and there will be many).”

ESWN used the metaphor of hydrological engineering to describe the phenomenon in this incident. He remarked that the point is not to build dams to hold the water back, because one day the dam will break and bring down the entire system. Rather, “the point should be about controlling and redirecting the awesome power of nature in less harmful ways down selected channels.”

Now the Guizhou provincial government has come up with an official version of the incident (that the girl committed suicide and that the vandalizing was organized by criminal elements), which is quite different from the netizens’ version (that it was a rape case which led to outraged citizens staging violent protests).

The big question is whether the official version is the absolute truth and whether the public is willing to believe it. I have a feeling that no closure is at hand yet for this case. The bigger question is: is controlling and guiding internet opinion (and the press for that matter) conducive to getting at the truth?