By Christopher Bodeen, AP Writer
BEIJING — Chinese President Hu Jintao has told officials to breathe new life into propaganda efforts, putting renewed emphasis on a key pillar of Communist rule ahead of this summer's Beijing Olympic Games.
Hu's remarks at a major party gathering reflected the government's traditional focus on controlling information and guiding public opinion, yet also indicated concern that those efforts were losing their edge in the face of the Internet and other independent sources of information and entertainment.
Officials should "perform well the task of outward propaganda, further exhibit and raise up the nation's good image," Hu said.
Reports on his remarks Tuesday to party leaders and propaganda officials dominated the front page of the party's flagship People's Daily and other official newspapers Wednesday.
The reports did not indicate any direct mention of the Olympics by Hu. However, they said he called for boosting China's "cultural soft power," a reference to influence in culture, sports and other spheres outside traditional military might and hard-nosed diplomacy.
China has only lately embraced the concept of "soft power," although propaganda has been a central tenet of Communist rule even before the party seized control in a 1949 revolution.
Directing those efforts is the Propaganda Department, which sits under the direct control of the party's powerful Central Committee. The body outranks all government ministries and the Cabinet's State Council Information Office, which is chiefly responsible for propaganda directed at foreign audiences.
As the voice of party rule, the department is headed by a party hard-liner and exercises broad control over print media, film, television and the Internet.
In an apparent attempt to appear more progressive, the department's English name was changed a decade ago to the Publicity Department, although its name in Chinese remains unchanged.
The department has wide-ranging powers to punish outlets, writers, filmmakers and journalists that defy its guidelines, both written and implied, although the process of censorship is highly opaque.
Organizers of the Beijing Olympics inaugurated a media center early on and hired international public relations firm Hill & Knowlton to advise on publicity and media relations for the Games, which get under way in August.
Those efforts are especially important given human rights groups' attempts to use the games to publicize their criticisms of Chinese policies on everything from religious freedoms to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
In the reports on his remarks, Hu also emphasized the importance of propaganda in maintaining stability in a society increasingly riven 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."