Propaganda machine in confusionPARK SUNG-HOON
The author is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
A few years ago, I visited the Chinese state-run CCTV headquarters in Beijing. I was shocked to hear from an international news producer that he sends the entire cue sheet to the Central Propaganda Department. It is not uncommon to change the order of news or remove a whole piece. It is unimaginable in Korea, but the producer was rather surprised by my shock.
A discussion about “propaganda” is being held in China. China’s Zhejiang Provincial Party Propaganda Department made a posting on Sept. 5, “Examining six types of low-grade red and high-grade black issues.” “Low-grade red” refers to the exaggeration of the correctness of party policy in an extreme manner. “High-grade black” refers to the act of criticizing the other side but undermining the cause of the Communist Party as a result. As both confuse and deceive the public, a high-level alert is needed, said the propaganda department.
There are many examples, including a police officer who gave up his wedding to attend a martial arts competition. Praising him for being a model for the police, the media published a picture of the bride who attended the wedding alone. But the result was just the opposite. People criticized that it was abnormal. Such cases were abundant. “The deputy mayor bought mooncakes with his own money.” “Poverty relief executives married women from poor families.” “A female worked overtime without changing clothes for 28 days in a row.” The party propaganda office wrote, “It is a traditional and exaggerated propaganda style highlighting diligence and integrity, and the clumsy self-beautification only brought contempt from the public.”
Referring to a media article analyzing the “arts of attire” comparing the outfits worn by general employees, local officials, central officials and director-level officials, it commented, “The article looks like a compliment, but it is mockery.” It also pointed out that the media agitation such as “China always wins” can lead to cynicism on party policy.
The propaganda department proposed, “As the public opinions become increasingly complicated, we need to deeply understand that news and propaganda are arts. When we advocate truth and simplicity and argue with rationality, we can end the low-grade red and high-grade black.” The boundary between propaganda and truth is going to be more ambiguous and subtle.
But the public opinion is turning cynical. On Sept. 2, Xinhua News Agency’s editor-in-chief Fu Hua published an article “Three One Minutes” in a magazine. “Don’t stand out of the rank of the party for one minute, don’t deviate from the direction of President Xi Jinping for one minute, don’t stay out of the party’s center for one minute,” he stressed. With the 20th Communist Party convention approaching, it was practically an open pledge that the state-run media will take the lead in implementing Xi’s policies. Some people were cynical. “Is the ‘Three One-Minutes’ a low-grade red or high-grade black? Or is it a new method?” one citizen asked.