The Role of the "Internal" Media
The Chinese media's internal publication system, in which certain journals are published exclusively for government and party officials, provides information and analysis not generally available to the public. The State values these internal reports because they contain much of China's most sensitive, controversial, and high-quality investigative journalism.
Xinhua and many other Chinese media organizations produce reports for the "internal'' journals. Informed observers note that journalists generally like to write for the internal publications--typically, only the most senior or most capable print and broadcast reporters are given such opportunities--because they can write less polemical and more comprehensive stories without having to omit unwelcome details as is commonly done in the print media directed to the general public.(1) A Chinese historian has noted, as an example of such self-censorship, that only a minority of China's population are aware 30 million people starved to death in the early 1960s, because the Party has never allowed the subject to be openly explored in the media.
The Chinese Government's internal media publication system follows a strict hierarchical pattern designed to facilitate party control. A publication called Reference Information (Cankao Ziliao)--which includes translated articles from abroad as well as news and commentary by senior Xinhua reporters--is delivered by Xinhua personnel, rather than by the national mail system, to officials at the working level and above. A three-to-ten-page report called Internal Reference (Neibu Cankao) is distributed to officials at the ministerial level and higher. The most highly classified Xinhua internal reports, known as "redhead reference" (Hong Tou Cankao) reports, are issued occasionally to the top dozen or so party and government officials.
There are signs the internal publication system is breaking down as more information becomes widely available in China. A Hong Kong-based political journal circulated on the Chinese mainland has questioned the need for such a system in light of China's modern telecommunications and expanding contacts with the outside world.(2) Internal publications are becoming less exclusive; some are now being sold illegally on the street and are increasingly available to anyone with money.(3)
Some of the internal publications have changed substantially in an effort to avoid becoming obsolete. For example, the publication News Front--started in 1957 as a weekly tool for the Communist Party to instruct journalists on what to write--no longer was limited to that function when it reappeared after the Cultural Revolution. It continued to change gradually and is now a monthly publication that serves as a professional rather than political guide for journalists.(4)
(1) From interviews and correspondence with former mainland Chinese journalists and a Hong Kong-based media scholar, June-August 1996.
(2) From an interview with a former mainland Chinese journalist now living in Hong Kong, June 1996.
(3) From correspondence with a Hong Kong-based Chinese media specialist, July-August 1996.
(4) From a US specialist's research on the Chinese media, June 1996.