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Yle: Secret orders for media coverage of Chinese presidential visit to Finland

As Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Finland for a state visit on Tuesday, Yle’s correspondent in Beijing revealed a set of detailed guidelines issued by the Chinese government for reporting on the trip. As Mika Mäkeläinen reports, Chinese media have dubbed such decrees "Ministry of Truth instructions".

Kuvakaappaus xuexi.cctv.com
According to the secret directive, this article must be kept in a central location until Wednesday afternoon. Image: cctv.com

Chinese media representatives have been given a set of detailed guidelines about how to report on President Xi Jinping’s official state visit to Finland from Tuesday to Wednesday. Yle Beijing correspondent Mika Mäkeläinen got his hands on a copy of the instructions sent to Chinese journalists from one of China’s best-known media organisations.

"Publish this article as is in a visible location on your website and mobile applications as well as your special websites and keep it visible until 2.00pm on 5.4," the order reads.

The guidelines originally referenced an article publicised on Chinese Central Television CCTV, which used a prominent graphic to highlight President Xi’s visit to Finland and the United States.

The article mentioned that Xi Jinping’s visit to Finland is his first trip to the Nordics during his term in office. It also emphasised that the visit will deepen ties between China and Finland.

President Xi and his wife arrive in Finland Tuesday evening and will be hosted by President Sauli Niinistö and his wife, Jenni Haukio. The heads will discuss bilateral relations and will also sign a joint statement at 11.30am on Wednesday. President Xi is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and Speaker of Parliament Maria Lohela.

Instructions to be acknowledged in 20 minutes

The decree ends with a reminder that the contents of the message are not to be disclosed.

The email directive is thought to be so important that on a four-tiered scale of importance, it is given the second-highest ranking. Respondents must respond to such orders within 20 minutes.

Any delay in responding would require an exceptionally weighty reason.

Ote kiinankielisestä käskystä
An excerpt from the secret instructions sent to Chinese media regarding President Xi Jinping's visit to Finland this week. Image: Yle

In their response, media organisations need to demonstrate that the order has been immediately complied with. In practice that means that the organisation would send officials a link to their websites showing the recommended article.

Media organisations are generally not allowed to alter the contents of the news item. This ensures the bureaucracy propagates what it regards as ideologically appropriate priorities in the news across the country.

"Ministry of Truth" directs media

Chinese media have come to know such guidelines by the Orwellian name, "Ministry of Truth instructions". They may be issued by different organs of the central government.

The China Digital Times website has compiled samples of similar orders issued to journalists – amounting to 13 so far this year. The contents were leaked by various media organisations. The guidelines listed feature headlines such as "Delete Reports on Call to Ease Internet Control" and "Delete Report on Air Pollution Deaths".

The fact that the website’s list does not include the instructions obtained by Yle suggests that there are other similar orders.

This week Chinese media have widely referenced content in which President Xi has praised Finland. However Yle has no information about whether or not the dissemination of such material was the subject of a separate order.

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