For outside observers, the Chinese media serves as the most common information platform that helps them understand China. Yet it also stands as an area where misunderstandings occur and inaccurate media reports are, surprisingly, common in Korea, due to the differences in the political and societal institutional canopy. Accordingly, there is a great need for research on the characteristics of the Chinese media within the Korean policy community so as to better understand China. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid, partly due to a lack of expertise on the Chinese media and the unique indoctrination Beijing enforces in the name of the so-called "Marxist Journalism" (makesizhuyi xinwenguan).
The Xi Jinping leadership ordered journalists to learn "Marxist news values" and uphold the values of the ruling Communist Party. In this context, today, any foreign analyst on China needs to know something about how journalists and media operate there.
Simply put, the Western norm of journalism is to report the "facts," while Chinese journalism's goal is to deliver the "truth." This is the most marked difference. However, one needs to be careful that the "truth" here is the so-called "socialist truth," not the truth we generally think of. And for China, it is the Communist Party that decides on the "truth."
Viewing from the internal logic of the Chinese Communist Party system, the party is infallible, and this party determines the "truth." And the journalists are expected to deliver "the truth," determined by the party. To a Christian audience, it is like the theory of biblical infallibility. If God is infallible, then so will be his word.
In a nutshell, in China, the job of a journalist is to deliver the truth, rather than report the facts. The truth here is not a universal truth, but the "socialist truth." The socialist truth is decided by the Community Party. The Communist Party is infallible. And the mission of a journalist is to serve as the Communist Party's "throat and tongue" (houshe) and spread the "truth" to the masses.
Hence, without understanding the Chinese Communist Party's operational philosophy of the media, misunderstandings could transpire when attempting to appreciate Chinese newspaper texts and media narrative from a foreign perspective. Beijing has developed a varied institutional logic (tizhi luoji) to maintain the communist regime's rules and the media is also one of the primary means to uphold the system.
In fact, it is a common mistake when people think China lacks media freedom and "therefore" doesn't attach importance to media. On the contrary, China perceives the media more importantly than capitalist society does. For instance, the editor-in-chief of the state mouthpiece, the People's Daily, is considered to be ministerial level (zhengbuji). Such importance is granted since the failure of the media to uphold the state's official narrative could be fatal to the regime. Beijing learned this lesson from the collapse of the Soviet Union. China's paramount leader Mao Zedong referred to the media as a "battleground" (zhendi) and Beijing has a strong determination to secure it. In February 2016, for instance, Xi Jinping demanded "absolute loyalty" from the Chinese state media during his high-profile visits to state news offices.
In the Chinese media landscape, the Global Times (huanqiu shibao) is the most controversial international newspaper. It has also been at the forefront of the Chinese public media warfare in foreign affairs. The old debate surrounding the newspaper among foreign experts has been whether it represents the Chinese government's views or not. The Global Times is owned by the official People's Daily. Its office is also located within the People's Daily compound in the eastern section of Beijing. Therefore, by the ownership structure, it is "official." At the same time, it doesn't receive any government subsidies (unlike the state People's Daily) and has to survive in the market on its own because it is classified as a "dushibao" (metro newspaper). So, it is "commercial."
The dual nature often draws exhaustive and unfruitful debates among foreign scholars who want to "nail down" the newspaper by assigning a certain category. But such an attempt is barren because the very strength of the newspaper is to voice the raw sentiment of the Communist Party and yet dodge responsibility. In other words, it is official when it wants; it is not official when it wants. (One also needs to caution that not all policy debates lead to actual policy). It is a convenient and ingenious tool of the Communist Party in shaping, influencing, and at times confusing the international audience. Such a media platform doesn't exist in the Western democratic society.
Lee Seong-hyon, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the Sejong Institute. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org