In a rare high-profile tour of China's top three state-run media outlets, President Xi Jinping clicked 'like' on a news agency mobile app, recorded a voice message to the public, and sat in the anchor's chair of the country's most-watched primetime national news bulletin, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Marking the first visit since taking office three years ago, Mr. Xi urged editors and reporters to pledge absolute loyalty to the party and closely follow its leadership in "thought, politics, and action."
"The media run by the party and the government are the propaganda fronts and must have the party as their family name," Xi told the propaganda workers, according to the AP.
"All the work by the party's media must reflect the party's will, safeguard the party's authority, and safeguard the party's unity," Xi said. "They must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action."
The visit coincided with a new regulation that seeks to ban foreign media companies from publishing any content online without the government’s approval, the latest move to tighten control of the digital realm – and highlights the increasingly restrictive political climate in China, where the leadership has sought to rein in public speech and thought, media observers say.
“It’s a very sensitive time economically, and even without the downturn, China is facing a whole array of really complicated social issues,” said David Bandurski, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based China Media Project, according to the Journal. “There is a nervousness [within the Chinese leadership], and this makes media and information control that much more of a priority.”
Media censorship is nothing new in China, yet the new regulations are already drawing criticism from analysts who say that the growing control only underscore the increasing ways Xi has “accrued more personal authority than either of his last two predecessors.”
"This is a very heavy-handed ideological campaign to drive home the point of total loyalty to the party core," Willy Lam, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the AP. "On one hand, Xi's influence and power are now unchallenged, but on the other hand, there is a palpable degree of insecurity."
Last October, the party introduced a new rule against “improper discussion” of national policies, and just weeks later dismissed the chief editor at a state-run newspaper for publicly contradicting government policy, the Journal reported.
"I am afraid we will see more personal deification in the media in the future," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based independent historian and political observer. "I think Xi is declaring his sovereignty over the state media to say who's really in charge."