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Earlier this week the All-China Journalists Association updated its professional ethics code for the first time in 10 years. This Code isn’t central to China’s tight regulation of the press, but is a clear statement of the values that journalists are expected to uphold, so it’s no surprise that many look to it for clues as to the direction the profession is heading in. Despite some rewording, however, the code remained largely the same, but it’s worth a quick run through of what changes were actually made.

  1. Added mention of Xi Jinping and his thought. This is actually less of a change than it might first appear, as the previous version of the Code already included nods to past leaders and their signature ideological contributions in its preface. Xi, who was not in power when the prior version was released, has been added, but the Code still includes references to all thought leaders going back to Marxism-Leninism. Xi, however, is the only one to be included in the Code’s actual provisions.
  2. Explaining China to the world. Of the Code’s 7 articles, only the last article changed its topic sentence. Article 7 previously emphasized the importance of further exchanges and cooperation with foreign media, and now emphasizes ‘presenting a positive image to the world.’  This thrust wasn’t absent in the previous versions, but has been expanded with new language on explaining Chinese culture, as well as Socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Party’s story.
  3. Emphasis on the Internet: The Code previously encouraged reporters to familiarize themselves with new technologies, but has expanded on this idea to encourage innovation, and greater understanding of new media applications. This can even include having content tailored to different focus groups. The Code also makes clear that those providing news services online through new media are to be considered journalists for purposes of the code, and that the standards for journalism are the same whether online or off.
  4. Removal of special mention of ethnic and religious rights. The previous version of the Code placed special emphasis on increasing awareness of the nation’s system of ethnic autonomous regions, ethnic equality, and religious freedom. This has been replaced only with a general call for publicity on all national policies and maintaining political and cultural security as well as social stability. This change seems especially significant in light of China’s recent emphasis on the Sinification of religion, and drastic measures to lock down the Xinjiang autonomous region.

In a related change, a call for journalists to show special consideration of the welfare of ‘special groups’ such as women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, was restricted to only include those named groups. This is a small change, but clearly intentional, and can only de-emphasize concern for groups united by ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, etc. that might qualified as ‘special groups’.

  1. Sharing good news. Chinese state media is generally presented as a tool for guiding public opinion, but added text also emphasizes its role in being responsive to the people’s needs including spiritual/emotional needs. This theme was present in previous draft as well, but new language in this Code emphasizes sharing relatable, upbeat and appealing stories.
  2. Better reporting. Not surprisingly, much of the new content is about trying to ensure the accuracy and decency of reporting. This includes calling on reporters to go to the scene to personally verify facts, showing cautious restraint when reporting on breaking news, not sensationalizing ongoing legal cases, and not quoting out of context or plagiarizing others work.
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Jeremy Daum is a Senior Fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, based in Beijing, with over a decade of experience working in China on collaborative legal reform projects. His principal research focus is criminal procedure law, with a particular emphasis on protections of vulnerable populations such as juveniles and the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, and is also an authority on China’s ‘Social Credit System’. Jeremy has spoken about these issues at universities throughout China and in the U.S.; and has co-authored a book on U.S. Capital Punishment Jurisprudence for Chinese readers. He is also the founder and contributing editor of the collaborative translation and commentary site, dedicated to improving mutual understanding between legal professionals in China and abroad.
He translates, writes, edits, does web-design, graphic design, billing, tech support, and social media outreach for China Law Translate.

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