Propaganda efforts directed at the internet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 December, 2004, 12:00am

Communist party calls for more vigilance against online forces that 'divide' and 'westernise' the nation

Cyberspace has been declared an ideological battleground on the mainland.

A spate of articles in Communist Party-controlled media has called for increased vigilance against hostile forces using the internet to 'divide' and 'westernise' China.

Twice this week, the People's Daily has warned that the party needed to create a positive ideological environment to achieve the goal of becoming a 'well-off society'.

Unlike previous clampdowns, which targeted pornography and violence but also silenced dissent, the campaign targets ideology and the free flow of information.

'We must firmly uphold the principle of party controlling the media; and we must find ways to improve the technique and art of guiding public opinion,' the People's Daily said in a commentary on Monday.

The internet, with 90 million users on the mainland, is recognised as a powerful force, especially in exposing rampant corruption and the negative implications of accidents and other breaking news. Radical and subversive views were particularly infectious, the commentary said.

But it said it was unwise to demonise the internet and the medium should be made to serve the party. The challenge was how to provide guidance, ranging from rebutting false information to using legal means to punish the creators of undesirable 'noises'. At the same time, the government should take care not to stifle complaints about official wrongdoing.

Online news and information must project a positive image of the party, it said. If it let negative news reports run unchecked, the party risked social unrest and also the flight of foreign investment.

Building a strong propaganda team was essential for guiding public opinion, especially controlling perceptions of negative breaking news.

Another commentary yesterday went one step further, calling attention to hostile forces on the internet within the country and abroad. 'If we do not seize the ideological battleground, other people will,' it said.

The current issue of the party magazine Seeking Truth calls on cadres to assert ideological leadership in society.

The closing statement of the Central Committee plenum in September underscored the importance of guiding public opinion.

'The system of control must be strengthened and a cyberspace propaganda team be formed to guide public opinion on the internet,' it said.

Until last year, people had had high hopes the internet could become the vehicle for democracy and free speech, but arrests of internet dissidents, the closure of controversial websites and the installation of meticulous filters had cleared space for propaganda.

Early this year, Li Changchun , the Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of ideological work, revealed his 'Three Close-tos' - close to reality, close to life and close to the masses - as the guidelines for the new propaganda work. But it remained to be seen if the new and improved official propaganda could keep the public tuning in, the professor said.

The party's propaganda department has produced sophisticated online games based on the Long March in the 1930s - and the life of communist heroes but the public showed no appetite for them.