The discipline arm of the ruling Chinese Communist Party has hit out at its powerful propaganda department for failing to exert enough control over public opinion, particularly online and in universities.
China's secretive propaganda masters haven't done enough to spread the "correct" ideological outlook in the country's higher education institutions and new media, the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a report posted on its website.
"[The department must] extend the principle of party leadership to all new media, and effectively manage its use of the Internet," the report, which was billed as "feedback" following a lengthy inspection, said.
"[It should also] strengthen coordination of its ideological work in universities, firmly guiding the development of teaching materials and academic opinion and debate," said the report, which was based on a speech given by investigation spokesman Wang Huaichen.
Officials in the department also fell short of the mark when it came to Marxist ideology, the report said.
"The level of political awakening is low among some high-ranking officials, and there are shortcomings in their implementation of party propaganda work in ideology and culture," it said.
"There is a lack of targeting and effectiveness when it comes to news propaganda, and many officials lack an in-depth understanding of contemporary Chinese Marxism," it said.
The department had failed to enhance the attractiveness and appeal of state propaganda, the report said.
The report comes after President Xi Jinping launched an ideological campaign earlier this year, warning the media that they must toe the party line, and warning officials to be careful what they say in public.
Xi, who has hit out at "careerists and conspirators," "cabals and cliques" in party ranks who should be eliminated, told officials to make their loyalties clear in public and not to allow "western" ideas to seep into their thinking.
Press freedom an alien concept
The president wants all public debate to be shaped by the Communist Party and not by "hostile foreign forces" peddling values like democracy, human rights and the rule of law, state media has reported.
"China has never had freedom of the press, and I think it's pretty normal for an authoritarian regime to engage in control of the media," freelance journalist Lu Xinrong told RFA in a recent interview.
"It doesn't matter how much public anger there is against the government; people still don't really understand the harm that is done by a dictatorship," Lu said.
"The sad thing is, a lot of people are totally unaware of all this, and the government knows ... the threshold at which they are likely to revolt."
Meanwhile, others said China's centrally directed propaganda work has little to do with the attacks on citizens' rights by local governments.
"Any news story that is in the public interest has to be based on some failure to protect citizens' rights at some level," a journalist who gave only his surname Wang told RFA.
"It tears aside the veil over the activities of local governments, and of course the government doesn't want to see that happen," he said.
"So they think of some way of suppressing the people whose rights have been trampled."
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.