The Communist Party's propaganda authority is planning to tighten its control over major journalism schools across the country and increase Marxist education at the universities.
Three people familiar with the plan said senior local propaganda officials would become heads or high-level officials of journalism programmes at 10 top-tier universities, in an attempt to ensure their teaching is in line with authorities' directives.
The people said similar overhauls may be made at other journalism schools in the future.
The restructuring will be modelled on a system that was already adopted at the journalism school of Fudan University in 2001. The current head of the university's journalism programme is Song Chao , who is a deputy propaganda director for Shanghai.
A report by the Jiefang Daily in 2001 quoted then Shanghai deputy party secretary Gong Xueping as saying the arrangement would ensure local propaganda authorities utilised their strength in leading and organising the mass media.
Sources said the propaganda authorities were meeting with the 10 universities on how the Fudan model could be applied.
"The restructuring has already been decided and will be announced soon," said one person from one of the affected journalism schools. "Education on the Marxist view of journalism will be intensified."
Another person said the action was taken because the authorities believed mainland journalists were becoming more influenced by Western liberal thinking. Several incidents, including the controversy surrounding the replacement of a New Year's editorial calling for constitutional rights at the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly newspaper, have alarmed the authorities.
Some academics said the protection of press freedom was a guiding principle of the Marxist view of journalism and questioned the authorities' understanding that the media was a platform to address the party's thinking and political ideas.
"The propaganda authorities probably fear that there will be more shockwaves, with China continuing to deepen market reform and open up its economy," said one source. "It's hard to believe the authorities will resort to the old style of tightening their ideological grip."
In August, President Xi Jinping told a national conference of propaganda officials to present a more coherent and unified message, urging them to adhere to Marxist beliefs.
Zhang Lifan, a political commentator, said the authorities were aware that journalists were more distanced from the party line. "Now it wants to start from the roots by revamping journalism schools," he said.
Li Datong, a former editor with China Youth Daily, said the measure would not be effective. "The journalists will memorise some lines of Marxist thought but in the end they won't care too much about it," he said.