Wed, Mar 12, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Beijing offering training for ‘opinion managers’

The Guardian, BEIJING

China plans to produce its first batch of certified “online public opinion management specialists” by way of a week-long training course and a standardized test, reflecting the depth of the government’s obsession with controlling the flow of online information.

Training leaders to manage public opinion online “has become an enormous task facing all levels of the government and leadership,” according to Xinhua news agency.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) assumed power in late 2012, authorities have tightened their controls over the country’s public discourse, doling out harsh punishments to pro-transparency activists and passing draconian legislation to combat the “spread of rumors” online.

During the six-day course — from March 27 to April 1 — experts will use case studies, simulations and group discussions to teach skills such as “how to correctly recognize online public opinion” and “the art and science of dealing with public opinion online.”

The program will be available to “all government organs and administrative units,” including state media, public security departments and petitioning offices, Xinhua reported. It will cost about US$1,130 per person.

The standardized test will take three hours. Participants who pass will be given a certificate by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, assigning them to one of five ranks: “Internet public opinion assistant analyst,” analyst, senior analyst, manager and senior manager.

The program’s Web site outlines the government’s approach to a handful of contentious social issues. One article encourages officials to allow a dialogue about individual acts of violence committed during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. While the government recognizes the severity of the event, it has only begun to allow a public discussion of its enduring trauma.

Another lists the challenges of controlling information amid “mass incidents,” a term officials often use to describe social unrest.

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