People's Daily boss tells of paper's role in Bo saga
The president of People's Daily gave students at Shanghai's Fudan University a rare insight into how the party mouthpiece rallied behind the Communist Party with a series of commentaries over the downfall of the disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai .
The speech by Zhang Yannong on Thursday is part of a public relations campaign the paper launched at mainland universities this year as it struggles for relevance in a diversifying media market.
Zhang, who has worked at People's Daily since 1996 and became its president in 2008, highlighted the role the party paper played following Bo's spectacular fall from grace. Bo is being investigated for 'serious violations of party discipline' linked to alleged criminal activities of his wife. The New York Times reported yesterday that Bo was also alleged to have ordered the wiretapping of President Hu Jintao's phones.
People's Daily ran 11 commentaries, including three that were widely circulated, over three consecutive days to reassure readers of the party's authority following Bo's dismissal from the party's Central Committee and its Politburo on April 10.
Zhang said that the first three editorials had been written by the head of the paper's editorial department in two days with the help of two junior writers born after 1980.
The first piece, on April 11, said the party's decision represented the 'correct' course of action, and called on party cadres and ordinary people to support the central leadership of Hu. The second commentary, the following day, urged cadres to 'resolutely support' the 'correct' decision of the party Central Committee.
'These commentaries have certainly set the tone over the incident to the extent that they played a role of unifying the thought of the party and the country and a role maintaining stability,' he said.
'People's Daily has once again demonstrated that it's still the chief mainstream opinion carrier.'
The paper has been pushing to expand, including through a listing of its online offshoot on the Shanghai Stock Exchange yesterday, and integrating social media.
Zhang said the paper's core competency was its role as a party mouthpiece, but admitted there was a perception it was dull. Despite this, it still enjoyed a circulation of 2.8 million.
Qiao Mu , director of the International Communication Research Centre at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the media was heavily censored, and People's Daily had carried many dubious reports serving party agendas during the paper's 64 years. It previously praised Bo's controversial 'Chongqing model'. 'How would we expect the public to trust and relate to such a media outlet?' Qiao said.