The Washington Post reports on a new required course that all journalism students must take at Tsinghua University in China. The class is called "Marxist journalism" – and it, unfortunately, sounds kind of familiar.
The center has in its first year of operation become a vivid example of the tension between China's rush toward modernization and the Communist Party's insistence on retaining control over the flow of information. Journalism students at Tsinghua are taught not only about Watergate and the rise of the Internet, but also about the restricted role reporters are expected to play under a Marxist government such as China's.
In China, that role traditionally has been to support the government by spreading propaganda and suppressing news that contradicts policy or puts officials in a bad light. But as the country has opened to the world in the last three decades, many journalists — and journalism students and their professors–have acquired new ambitions for their craft, such as investigative reporting on official corruption.
Against that background, the party's Central Committee in 2001 urged Chinese media and journalism schools to adopt the concept of "Marxist journalism." The term was broadly interpreted to mean journalism that the government views as improving society and taking account of Chinese realities, including censorship under one-party rule.
What sounds more than a bit familiar is this part:
Addressing censorship, Fan told students that the government must "guide public opinion" because many Chinese are not well educated and cannot understand current events well. "The situation of our country decided we need to guide public opinion," he said. "We should consider the social effects of every report, thinking if it is good or bad for our country, society and people, especially for the stability and development of the country."
Make a couple of minor word substitutions and it sounds more than a little like the agenda of many in the Western media, doesn't it? (Despite warnings from some in media that point of view journalism can be a very bad idea.) Not that the media in this country does the government's bidding – quite the opposite, in fact. Still, there are a lot of reporters these days who write with an agenda, one which is not transparent, meant to "guide" public opinion. That should make some journalists uncomfortable.
Of course, we also have graduates of the Mad Magazine School of Journalism running about as well.