The flagship newspaper of a regime that strictly controls the press made its debut on Sina Weibo, the microblogging platform, recently—to the sound of chortles by many netizens.
Tools such as Weibo have in recent years become the most powerful balm to the Party’s stifling of the press and incessant propaganda, best represented by People’s Daily. The latter’s tardy entry onto the scene was thus thought by many to be ironic.
The People’s Daily even brought to the new communication platform the same old approach that many took to Weibo to escape, characterizing Weibo as a battlefront that they needed to attack from.
A report by Oriental Morning Post, a newspaper based in Shanghai, notes that it was a young editor at People’s Daily who made the suggestion that the newspaper should expand onto Weibo.
“We cannot submissively give up this Weibo battlefront. We have to proactively attack, set up an official Weibo [account], and promote quality product.”
A meeting was held and the editors decided to proceed.
The paper felt a “sense of crisis” about its need to venture onto the new media landscape, the Post article said.
The People’s Daily account was created on July 22, the day after the beginning of heavy rainstorms in Beijing. Eight bureau-level directors at the newspaper have been charged with leading the new cyberspace propaganda task.
Zhang Zhi’an, assistant to the dean at the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University, told the Post that the newspaper’s choice to form a microblog at this moment should not be treated as an isolated event, but as part of a new overall media strategy.
Microbloggers were both amused and disdainful of the development.
Sun Qiang, a policeman in Heilongjiang Province said, “It is a waste of resources. Such organizations should be set up by grass-roots people.” He was referring to the bureaucratic management structure of the account, as reported by the Post.
A netizen in Hangzhou City of Zhejiang Province said, “Only when it has freedom of speech will it be a good newspaper.” He also remarked on the fact that eight director-level officials have been requisitioned to run the microblog, partly to ensure that political purity of microblog announcements is maintained.
“It seems that the civil service has to be expanded. There aren’t enough officials because there are too many troublemakers on Weibo,” a netizen called Zhou Zhou in Nantong City, Jiangsu Province said.
“Are they brainwashing us with our own tax dollars?” A blogger named “Calmly Work” in Guangzhou City commented.
With People’s Daily’s entry onto Weibo, microbloggers are worried about increased attempts at throttling their speech.
Weibo users can currently comment with some degree of freedom on major social events in China, including most recently a shopping mall fire in Tianjin; mass protests in Shifang, Sichuan Province; and the flooding in Beijing.
They are regularly censored, too, including having their posts deleted outright, made invisible to everyone but themselves, or unable to be displayed in searches. Sometimes accounts are banned for crossing the invisible boundaries around criticizing the regime. In some cases, offenders have been arrested or sentenced to labor camps for making quips about Party officials.
Nevertheless, given that Weibo is mostly driven by citizen contributions, people are much more willing to believe what they read there above top-down state propaganda.
One of the prize functions of the service is the ability to comment on the posts or news reports of other users. This is a functionality that Weibo is even better at than Twitter.
The remarks on Weibo reflect public opinion, which People’s Daily fears. I hope that Weibo won’t close the commenting function.
—Hu Jun of Human Rights Campaign in China
“There are hundreds of millions of users on Weibo. The remarks on Weibo reflect public opinion, which People’s Daily fears. I hope that Weibo won’t close the commenting function,” says Hu Jun of Human Rights Campaign in China, an NGO.
The commenting function was in fact removed on March 31 for three days, as punishment for the “rumors and other illegal and harmful information” that netizens had discussed and spread online.
The most harmful rumor was probably that there had been an attempted coup in Beijing on the night of March 19. Party leaders do not tolerate discussions about instability of the regime.
“The real truth can’t be known if it’s not taken out and dusted,” Hu Jun said in a telephone interview. “We are not afraid of the government talking. We are afraid that it’s the only one doing the talking, and doesn’t let the people talk.”
Read the original Chinese article.
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