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Chinese media chiefs ordered to toe the line

China's leaders have hauled in 450 of the nation's media chiefs to order them to more closely toe the government line and step up their allegiance to the Communist Party, state press said on Wednesday.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and other party leaders, including propaganda czar Li Changchun, met with the media chiefs at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday to reinforce the message, the People's Daily reported.

"Under the embrace and leadership of the party, the news battlefront... should closely encircle the overall work of the party and state," the paper quoted Li as telling the members of the All China Journalists Association.

The association represents all 700 000 journalists in China.

Li stressed that the priority of "news and propaganda" was to fully publicise the important speeches of Hu, especially his pet project of "building a harmonious socialist society," the People's Daily said.

"We must unite the thoughts of the entire party and the people with the spirit of the party's central committee... in order to create an atmosphere of positive and healthy thinking for a socialist harmonious society," he said.

China's media is already strictly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, and the nation is ranked 163rd out of 167 countries on Reporters Without Borders' global press freedom index.

The meeting comes as China's rulers struggle to deal with rising social unrest largely linked to growing discontent over the nation's widening wealth gap, widespread government corruption and worsening environmental degradation.

As part of this social phenomenon and amid the rise of the Internet, the media in China has been seen by many to have become increasingly bold.

In July, China said it intended to pass a law to punish reporters for inaccurate reporting about emergency incidents - a move that critics of the Communist Party saw as another attempt to tighten the muzzle on the press.

Veteran journalists in China known for their outspoken views told AFP on Wednesday the government's order to the media chiefs to portray a "harmonious society" was part of an on-going effort to curtail the press.

Jiao Guobiao, a former Peking University journalism professor who lost his job last year after he openly criticised the propaganda chiefs, said Tuesday's meeting was a reminder of the media's role as a voice of the Communist Party, and not of the people.

"In China's tradition, the media has always been the authority's mouthpiece... this is nothing new," said Jia.

"(But) recently there have been more unharmonious elements... the natural logic of this is that they hope the media won't cause more trouble."

Li Datong, who was this year demoted at the China Youth Daily because a supplement he edited was seen to be too outspoken, agreed the "harmony" push could be used to crack down further on press freedom.

"The definition of harmony is in their (the government's) hands... they do what they like and when they lock up someone, that is also for the sake of harmony," Li said.

Reporters Without Borders and other Western rights organisations frequently criticise China's rulers for the harsh measures used to control the press, particularly the jailings and sackings of journalists.

They say a crackdown on the media has intensified under Hu's three-year rule.

Date posted: October 25, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 9