Public Opinion & Spin Control in China


Quite a few blog entries and articles have been posted around the web regarding the CCP’s initiative to “channel public opinion.”  Authors mainly cite two pieces of information:

a) Hu Jintao’s June 20, 2008 speech on the role of news media organizations in undertaking a dialogue between the Party/Government and the public.

b) An August 13, 2009 publication of the All-China Journalist’s Association that discusses guidelines & recommendations for certain agencies that may need to respond to sudden public rancor.

The more I read about the activity of “channeling” in China (kudos to HKU’s China Media Project), the more I start to think of government “spin” in the United States.  China can’t control public opinion, and I believe they don’t seek to do so anymore as much as influence it.  Like any government, it wants to have its version of the story told.

I used to think that the Party had an unfair advantage because it controls the fourth estate so absolutely, but to see the widespread usage of and engagement of internet BBS, Blogs, and SMS information exchange, that sense of unfairness has eased.  And after living through US media coverage of our own government these past 8 years, I don’t find myself as fervently believing our own media’s independence which affects how I view the Party’s efforts at spin control.

For the most part, I view the efforts by the PRC government to build “channeling” skills as an effort to rid propaganda departments of stodgy tired phrases and rigid stubborn personalities.

Additionally, there is an emphasis on preparing for direct participation in public dialogue by officials responsible for activities that come under intense public scrutiny.

The Journalist’s Association article contains the following advice/guidelines:

A) Perceptively finding and compiling relevant information about public opinion.
(B) Correctly discriminating and screening. Ensuring the objectivity of public opinion.
(C) Carrying out tracking of [opinion] activity
(D) Scientific evaluation and analysis. To the highest degree possible,
comprehensively and objectively exposing the current state of public
opinion and what direction it is trending.
(E) Achieving a system
of regular analysis [of public opinion]. Regularly carrying out
assessment and analysis of trends in public opinion, making an
appropriate analysis of the situation.

Ok, so that isn’t the most well written set of guidelines (still a hint of party-speak in there), but it basically spells out a PR crisis response management plan that an corporation, institution and government agency has in the US.

This is not to belittle the issue of self-censorship and the risks of arbitrary imprisonment, but I do think channeling reflects the Party’s own admission that it can only have a voice in most matters, and that it has to take divergent views into consideration before acting.

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