Top China censor Cai Fuchao 'faces many challenges'

Veteran of mouthpiece Beijing Daily will run newly merged broadcast and print watchdog

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 11:13am

When Cai Fuchao was given one of the mainland's top media awards in 1998, he was praised for his professionalism and allegiance to the Communist Party.

"He has a strong sense of social responsibility and dares to write about contentious social issues," the presenter said when announcing Cai as the recipient of the third Fan Changjiang News Award, named after a renowned journalist. Through his work, "he helped build a bridge for mutual understanding between the government and the public".

Now, 15 years later, Cai has a much bigger bridge to build, as he has been appointed head of the newly created General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television - a merging of the old broadcast watchdog, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft), and the top print censor, the General Administration of Press and Publications.

After working in a factory for eight years, Cai joined the Beijing Daily, the municipal party mouthpiece, in 1979 as a business reporter. He spent nearly two decades there rising through the ranks before being transferred to the city's propaganda department as its deputy head in 1998.

He continued to climb the bureaucratic ladder and was promoted to vice-mayor of Beijing in 2008. After three years, he was transferred to the central government, taking over the reins at Sarft, where he replaced the retiring Wang Taihua .

The Beijing Times has reported that while Cai was a business-desk editor at the Beijing Daily, he spoke out against paid journalism - stories done in exchange for money - and he banned reporters from social events they were not covering for the paper.

Cai was reportedly one of the most visible municipal officials during the Sars outbreak in 2003, when he was head of the publicity department, and the media praised him for his frankness.

He was asked by an Italian journalist about Sars patients who were fleeing hospitals in Beijing because other patients were dying around them, during a time when the outbreak remained a sensitive topic. Not only did Cai confirm the exodus, he explained what was behind the panic.

A mid-level official at Sarft who spoke on condition of anonymity described Cai as a typical mainland propaganda official, who knew how to deal with the press while still toeing the party line.

However, the Sarft official also said that Cai faced many challenges, including the fact that he was a relative newcomer to the broadcast industry, which was being transformed by developments on the internet.

Professor Qiao Mu, who teaches communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said an imminent challenge to the merger of the broadcast watchdog and print censor would be dealing with potentially large numbers of redundant staff.

Qiao said that during previous restructurings of central government agencies, many of the redundant civil servants were sent to participate in government-funded studies at colleges. But almost all of these workers came back to their original agencies a few years later.

Qiao said another test for the administration under Cai would be determining how much it would deregulate itself, particularly in areas such as a licensing.

"The success of the streamlining will hinge on how much they refrain from meddling with the market," Qiao said.