China's propaganda ministry has taken to wielding the contrivance of the self-inflicted refutable slander to precondition their public against truthful allegations of embarrassing and intractable problems.
An explosion of negative news -- tainted food exports, slave labor at brick kilns, political challenges and even supposed cardboard dumplings -- has pained party censors and renewed demands for ideological and political discipline among China's journalists.
"News publishing professionals must resolutely instill a Marxist concept of news, maintain party principles, firmly uphold professional ethics and voluntarily commit themselves to upholding the sacred mission and glorious responsibility bestowed on them by the party and the people," said an order issued Monday by the party's main propaganda organizations.
The order was handed down in response to a high-impact Beijing Television broadcast this month reporting that a fast-food restaurant had mixed cardboard with pork in stuffing its steamed dumplings. The report caused a sensation among Beijing residents, who cherish their dumplings and who were already sensitized by weeks of reporting on food safety concerns.
But authorities quickly branded the broadcast a hoax. The reporter, identified as an inexperienced temp called Zi Beijia, was jailed, and party propaganda officials scolded journalists loudly for lax ethics and needlessly stirring up worries among the public.
In the minds of authorities and Chinese who follow the party line, the scandal was a way to undermine weeks of other reporting on tainted food and drugs, including numerous dispatches by foreign correspondents. In their view, such reports were vastly overblown. ..
Chinese authorities have been particularly sensitive recently about how the party is portrayed. In part, the concern has arisen from a desire to radiate a good image for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But more important, officials have begun the countdown to a crucial party congress in the fall during which Hu is expected to cement his leadership, establish his ideological credentials and stack party organizations with his supporters. Against that background, the rash of negative news has been particularly unwelcome.
After a meeting of top Beijing propaganda officials, for instance, the capital's newspaper editors and television news directors last week were handed a list of newly off-limits subjects, Beijing journalists reported. The list included food safety as well as riots, fires, deadly auto accidents and bloody murder cases, they said.
The people who would believe the Party explanation that an "inexperienced temp" could have had the wherewithal to unilaterally get an inflammatory exposé onto Beijing Television are living examples of the requisite gullibility of the masses necessary to the functioning of a well-controlled society.