Journalists in China are being forced to submit to the cult of Chairman Xi. Orders from the Communist Party make it clear that their career success could depend on their knowledge of the President’s thoughts and speeches.

The total hours they tally when using a smartphone to get the news, speeches and thoughts of Xi Jinping will be a key gauge on their capacity to climb the ladder as a news professional in China, as will scores they get when doing quizzes on an internet app with everything about Xi.

Journalists and editors with news agencies, newspapers and radio and television stations in China must pass exams grading their understanding of Xi’s teachings before they can qualify for new press credentials and cards issued by the party.

The new app was an idea of the Communist Party’s propaganda department. It was developed by Alibaba and launched in January.

Journalists who fail to master tests on the app may need some extra refresher training, and if one fails a second exam he or she could be demoted or even asked to find a new career.

Making China stronger

The name of the app, Xuexi Qiangguo (學習強國), is a pun that has two possible meanings – ‘Study makes China stronger’ or ‘Study Xi and make China stronger’.

The tests on the app are mostly about “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. These pearls of wisdom and insight were inserted into the party’s constitution at the 19th party congress in October 2017 as the party’s guiding tenet, along with thoughts and theories from Xi’s predecessors including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

Xi’s slew of advice about the party’s propaganda and its oversight of the media are key parts covered by the tests.

Xi has stressed during multiple visits to news organizations that the way news is delivered has a direct impact on the beliefs of the masses. He insists that state media must not betray its “family name,” this is the party.

China Central Television put up a banner saying ‘CCTV, with the party as our family name, is absolutely loyal to the party’, when Xi inspected the broadcaster in 2016. Photos: Weibo

The nearly 90 million card-carrying members of the party, who must install the Xi app on their phones and log in on a daily basis to study the latest news on the president, have made it the most downloaded app on mainland China this year.

When it is installed, the app also demands a whole host of information from a user, including their real name, age, contact details, employment details, real-time position, etc.

The South China Morning Post and the Paris-based Libération reported that the party has chosen a group of media outlets whose employees will be asked to take part in tests on the app at the end of this month. And all the country’s reporters and editors will have to do the same in early October.

The front page of Xuexi Qiangguo’s website is also plastered with news and photos of Xi.

Many journalists say this is a new bid by the party to ensure the mass media stays “on message”, so they are full of Xi’s thoughts and can, in turn, become his disciplines, helping to convert the masses.

But Chinese news portal Sohu.com noted that the tests for journalists would not be too difficult to pass, as study groups would be established by media outlets to help their employees with sample questions soon to be uploaded onto the app.

Even before this latest move, China languished on the bottom rung of global news rankings.

A news freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders this year put the country at 177th spot – in the same league as Eritrea and North Korea – out of the 180 countries and regions it surveyed. Taiwan was ranked at 42nd while Hong Kong was at 73rd place.