So what's news? It's about readers, not leaders

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-04-04 07:08

The main Party newspaper in Chongqing has won praise for downplaying the world of officialdom in favor of social issues and people's concerns.

It has long been a common practice for governments above the prefecture level to sponsor a Party newspaper to publicize their work and ideology.

But many readers find these publications, which devote page upon page to routine activities and speeches by officials, boring.

In a popular reversal of this trend, Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality earlier this year ordered its Party newspaper, Chongqing Daily, to give more play to social issues on the front pages, and move reports on leaders' activities to inside pages.

"Readers want reports on things they care about, not where the leaders spent their days," Wang Yang, secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Chongqing municipal committee, was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

The move has come to be seen as an experiment in altering the nature of the hundreds of Party publications - and in the process changing the official-oriented culture, experts said.

Chen Lidan, a media researcher at Renmin University of China, said lengthy but pointless reports on leaders' activities had become de rigueur during the "cultural revolution" (1967-76), when a personality cult reached its zenith.

Many Party newspapers have become showcases for prominent government figures, and there have even been cases in which the editors of local Party newspapers were sacked for negligence in reporting on leaders' activities, said Chen.

Beyond sporadic efforts by local governments to control the trend, a meeting of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau in March 2003 issued a document discouraging tedious reporting about government officials.

"But it failed to achieve its goal, as few local governments bothered to put it into practice," Chen told China Daily.

Ding Baiquan, a professor of Party newspapers at Nanjing University, said that without a drastic change of mindset, a lone document from the Politburo is not enough to alter the situation.

The Chinese mainland had 1,017 Party publications in 2004, according to the latest figures available from the State Administration of Press and Publication. But it is believed that several hundred have since been shut down following a directive to limit the number of such publications.

(China Daily 04/04/2007 page1)

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