01/24/2008, 00.00
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For Hu Jintao good propaganda more important than solving problems

President calls on Communist party officials to increase propaganda activities ahead of next summer’s Olympics. The goal is to give the country a positive image, sweeping problems under the carpet. Propaganda Department gears up its censorship functions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese President Hu Jintao has told Communist Party officials to “perform well the task of outward propaganda, further exhibit and raise up the nation's good image” ahead of this summer's Beijing Olympic Games. Hu also emphasised the importance of propaganda in maintaining stability in a society increasingly divided by disparities between rich and poor, ethnic divisions and challenges to the party's once unquestioned authority.

Officials, he said, must “advance the building of the body of socialist core value and further boost unity and harmony between all ethnic groups.”

However, media reports did not indicate any direct mention of the Olympics by Hu when they called for boosting China's “cultural soft power,” a reference to influence in culture, sports and other spheres outside its traditional military might and hard-nosed diplomacy.

Directing those efforts is the Publicity Department, once known as the Propaganda Department in English, which sits under the direct control of the party's powerful Central Committee.

It has wide-ranging powers to punish media outlets, writers, filmmakers and journalists that defy its guidelines, both written and implied, although the process of censorship is highly opaque.

Beijing is especially concerned about dissidents and rights activists who might use the Olympics to criticise Chinese policies, the lack of freedom of religion and China’s role in Darfur.

Thus organisers of the Beijing Olympics inaugurated a media centre early on and hired international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton (instrumental in Athens' successful bid for the 2004 Games) for advice on publicity and media relations for the Games, which get under way in August 2008.

For analysts though the authorities seem more concerned about preventing interest in the country’s problems than solving any of them before the Olympics.

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