BEIJING - China's ruling Communist Party told the already tightly monitored state media on Monday that they should not be reporting on "wrong points of view" and instead cover positive stories that promote "socialist values".
Traditionally, Chinese state media has been the key vehicle for party propaganda. But reforms over the past decade that have allowed greater media commercialisation and some increase in editorial independence, combined with the rise of social media, have weakened government control, according to academics.
However, since Xi Jinping became party chief and then national president, he has overseen a media crackdown to bring newspapers in particular back in line.
Under new guidelines to enforce "core socialist values", the media must "steadfastly uphold the correct guidance of public opinion".
"Strengthen the management of the media, do not provide channels for the propagation of the wrong points of view," read the guidelines, which were published by the official Xinhua news agency.
"News and publishing organs and those who work in the industry must strengthen self-regulation, and earnestly increase their sense of responsibility and ability to promote core socialist values," it added.
China media watchers have pointed to a flurry of editorials after Xi spoke to propaganda officials in August as evidence of concern within the party that control over public discourse was slipping. The official Beijing Daily described the party's struggle to win hearts and minds as a "fight to the death".
Some reporters and academics, however, have traced the start of the tougher attitude to a strike lasting several days in January by journalists at an outspoken newspaper, the Southern Weekly, after censors scrapped a New Year editorial calling for China to enshrine constitutional rights. Xi had taken over the Communist Party only a few weeks earlier.
Xi has also taken a tough line on internet censorship, and the new guidelines implied that would continue. "Strengthen management of the internet in accordance with the law, including the management of new technologies and usages ... strike hard against online rumours and criminal activities to clean up the internet environment," Xinhua said.
Xinhua said that "core socialist values" included lofty ideals like democracy, equality and rule of law, but also the guiding position of Marxism in today's China.