Due to the political significance of communication and propaganda in the PRC, journalists have long occupied a critical position between the Party-state and the populace. They play a crucial role in publicly legitimating the CCP even while often being privately critical of its overbearing hold on news production. The CCP holds strongly to the principle that all media function as the ‘mouthpiece’ of the Party and government (see state control of media), although what this entails in practice has changed markedly since the early 1980s. Journalists, most notably in print media, have found numerous ways to circumvent political dogma and offer the public lively, popular and commercially viable copy (see newspapers; evening newspapers and weekend editions; Nanfang Weekend).
Even though all areas of media production have been affected by commercialization and the development of market forces, the Chinese government still regards news production as the most political, and therefore the most sensitive, sector of the media. Journalists therefore feel the pressure of political control more strongly than others. This pressure is exerted through a system of self-censorship and retrospective criticism that operates largely through a hierarchy of editors, each responsible to the one above them. Television journalism is subject to the heaviest control, but even here journalists have found ways of reporting social scandals, corruption, crime and other ‘negative’ news once strictly controlled by the Party.
Traditionally, journalist recruitment has focused on journalism or Chinese literature graduates. There are numerous renowned schools of journalism throughout the country, most notably at Fudan University in Shanghai and the People’s University in Beijing. Journalism education still somewhat anachronistically revolves around the central tenets of ‘socialist news’ production emphasizing the ‘Party mouthpiece’ principle. However, many courses also include critical and pragmatic reference to commercial and Western models of news production. Furthermore, news organizations are increasingly recruiting young graduates from other non-specialist degree courses at the country’s top universities which stress intelligence, creativity and enthusiasm over political and technical training.
The development of the Internet has had a number of effects on journalistic practice. First, subject to certain controls, it has given journalists access to a vast array of new sources, often including leading foreign news websites (see Internet (content); Internet portals; Internet (history and structure)). Second, it has demanded new forms of journalism specifically tailored to online reporting. Finally, the Internet is attributed with enhancing the feedback effect of journalists on those in power. For example, Internet reporting of an explosion in a school used for manufacturing fireworks in 2001 is widely considered to have spurred a more open and responsible acknowledgement of the disaster than would have occurred in the past.
Chinese journalists generally have a strong sense of ethics and professionalism associated with their understanding of their crucial position of responsibility in society. However, with the commercialization of the media various forms of paid journalism have emerged, and although widely condemned, the practice nonetheless continues. Journalists played a key role in the political demonstrations of 1989 through both their participation in and their reporting of events. Journalists from many leading news organizations, including central Party propaganda organs, joined marches in Beijing, and prior to the implementation of martial law, the student demonstrations, including student demands and negotiations with the government, were openly reported on national television and in the press. However, after the political clampdown of June that year, journalists once again found their work heavily monitored, and moves towards greater press freedom in the 1990s have been focused in more commercially oriented directions.
De Burgh, Hugo (2004). Chinese Journalist: Mediating Information in the World’s Most Populous Country. London: Routledge.
Latham, Kevin (2000). ‘Nothing but the Truth: News Media, Power and Hegemony in South China’. China Quarterly 163: 633–54.
Lee, Chin-chuan (ed.) (1990). Voices of China; The Interplay of Politics and Journalism. New York: Guilford Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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