How does a totalitarian regime make sure all its journalists toe the party line? In China, journalists and editors are being forced to sit an exam testing their loyalty to President Xi Jinping — if they don’t correctly answer questions about Marxism and Xi’s political thinking, they don’t get issued a press card.
The online test, to take place in early October, will be a closed-book exam taken onsite and administered by news organisations. It will test journalists’ knowledge of Xi’s teachings on socialism, his “important thoughts on propaganda” and Marxism, according to Media Reform — a self-published news account on WeChat. Any journalist who fails the test have one more chance to redo it.
It’s set to be hosted on the Xuexi Qiangguo mobile app — a news aggregation platform providing information about the president and his political philosophy. The app was launched in January by the propaganda department. Initially compulsory for all party members to download and use, it’s now no longer mandatory but strongly encouraged. The app keeps track of users’ progress, with the data accessed by propaganda department officials.
China is ranked third-last on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index — sitting at 177 out of 180 countries. Both Chinese state and private outlets are under the tight control of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, with more than 60 journalists currently detained in conditions that pose a threat to their lives.
Australian writer and political commentator Yang Hengjun is currently detained in China on suspicion of spying. He has been a longstanding critic of the CPC, promoting democracy in his writing. Hengjun potentially faces the death penalty and is being held in Beijing in harsh conditions. He has not had access to his family or lawyers since January.