MORE in wonder than criticism, we want to file this comment on a recent development in China that imposes a strange requirement on the practice of journalism in that country.
The Guardian, the UK-based daily newspaper, published on September 20 a news report that caught our eye as a professional media organization.
The news article, written by Lily Kuo from Beijing, reported that starting October, Chinese journalists will be tested on their loyalty to China’s President Xi Jinping.
Chinese journalists will soon be required to pass a test grading their understanding of Xi Jinping on Xi Jinping thought, or the socialist teachings espoused by the Chinese leader.
A notice from China’s media regulator has been sent to more than a dozen state-owned news organizations in Beijing over the last month. It instructs employees to prepare to take an exam on the “study Xi” propaganda app, launched earlier this year, in order to have their press credentials renewed.
Most people believe the regulation will soon apply to Chinese reporters across the country. Journalists from three media organizations, two of which were outside Beijing, told the Guardian their publications had also received informal notices to register on the app.
“From the top down to the bottom, I don’t think anyone will be able to escape it,” said one reporter from a broadcaster in the eastern Shandong province.
The on-site, closed-book exam, to be administered by news organizations in early October, will be divided into five parts, including two on Xi Jinping’s teachings on socialism for the new era and Xi’s “important thoughts on propaganda.”
News of the test, which was first reported by the South China Morning Post, comes as Chinese media face increasing restrictions. China is considered one of the least free countries for a journalist to operate in. It was ranked 177 out of 180 countries in 2019 by Reporters Without Borders, above Eritrea and North Korea.
The Guardian further reported:
“While Chinese journalists face jail time and self-censorship is common, journalists, especially from independent publications, often push the envelope, investigating cases of local or corporate corruption. To get a press credential, journalists have previously been tested on their understanding of Marxist journalistic ideals.”
Chinese authorities have stepped up their regulation of Chinese media and the internet, which already limits access to foreign websites, including news sites.
President Xi has demanded loyalty from Chinese journalists before. In 2016, he told the staff at three state-run news outlets in Beijing that they were “the propaganda fronts and must have the party as their family name.”
The test can only be retaken once. Journalists said they were not sure whether they would need to take it every time they renewed their press cards, done every five or six years.
This government policy toward journalism is totally alien to us Filipinos, whose Constitution guarantees, in its bill of rights, freedom of speech and of the press.
We are commenting on this policy development in China for several reasons.
First, the Times has been practicing journalism for more than a century. As journalists, we feel kinship with all serious journalists all over the world.
Second, the Philippines and China maintain close ties with each other, and we have a common interest today in vital questions concerning the South China Sea. Our ties and shared interests are best served by media that freely report on issues and events to our respective peoples.
Third, our President Rodrigo Duterte holds in high regard President Xi and how he is leading China.
It will be a shock for our people and our country if someone were to get the idea of requiring Filipino journalists to undergo a test on their knowledge of the thinking and teachings of President Duterte.
Even Duterte will find this too grotesque to contemplate.