A Chinese TV news report unwittingly revealed how the communist regime’s Propaganda Department trains its army of paid Internet commentators, notoriously known as “50-cent-party,” to shape public opinion on the Internet.
On Sept. 8, Xishui TV, a local station in Hubei Province, reported a training conducted by the Xishui County Propaganda Department for spokespersons from various work units and all Internet commentators in the county. The purpose of the training, according to the report, was to continuously improve the skills of spokespersons and Internet commentators and to enable them to respond to a public crisis as well as guide public opinion in a “constructive way.”
A delegate of the county’s standing committee, who is also the director of the Propaganda Department, said in the opening that the Internet has already become a public media that spreads information widely and quickly; it also has strong impact and will continue to evolve in the future, therefore making it “an important battlefield of ideology.”
Faced with the diversity and complexity of needing to create press releases and guiding public opinion via the Internet, the report said, the training required that everyone develop and improve their professional skills in the following areas: safeguarding the image of the Party and the government, handling sudden breaking news, guiding public opinion and performing public relations, utilizing and managing of the Internet.
It encouraged participants to “become a press spokesperson of high caliber, who can guide public opinion in the right direction and make contributions to local harmony and stability.”
The training also provided know-how on creating press releases, guiding public opinion, improving communication skill with the media, and handling breaking news in a "positive" way.
“Report the facts quickly, but report the causes cautiously; report with unanimous voice, while using your own words; maintain a proper level of panic,” were the basic principles given for writing media releases on sudden breaking news.
Distorted People’s Conscience
Who the “50-cent-party” members are, and how they go about their business, has been a mystery to most Chinese bloggers who have been the victims of Internet censorship for a long time.
The video was originally posted on cnxishui.net, which is operated by Xishui County Propaganda Department, and must have been an accident as it was removed just a few hours after its appearance. But it was long enough for many Chinese netizens to become aware and comment on it.
According to a report by Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, Internet commentators in the early days ran their operations in secret and seldom revealed their identities. In recent years, however, Beijing has escalated efforts in training and promoting them, and has allowed them to make public appearances in the media to boast about their “achievements.”
One blogger used plain language to express his sense of disdain over the training video’s blatant showoff posting, saying: “Such a video clip, that cannot be obtained even by pulling strings, was actually aired on TV! It only proves that the propaganda minister is a complete idiot.”
The Apple Daily report said that with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as their backing, the number of Internet commentators in China is estimated to have reached 280,000. With each one of them posting five comments per day, that amounts to 1.4 million posts daily, enough to inundate some Internet forums and ensure “harmony” for the CCP.
Heng He, a commentator at New Tang Dynasty TV, said the CCP has distorted people’s conscience by manipulating Internet commentators to serve it.
Heng compared the CCP with the former East German state where informers for the communist authorities used to operate in secret and were kept away from public view.
“But under CCP rule, these kind of people have gained recognition from society, and people are encouraged to do so, and do it openly,” Heng said.
Chinese Poet He Junqiao told The Epoch Times that the CCP has always paid great attention to propaganda, control, and the spreading of ideology. Propaganda departments are usually under the control of high ranking officials who are members of the Standing Committee, he said.
“It is quite normal for a political party to have its own propaganda, but this is not normal propaganda, and is nothing but complete deception,” He said.
Read the original Chinese article.