A screenshot of Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting the headquarters of China Central Television on February 19, 2016.
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As sentiment sours on China’s stewardship over a sputtering economy, rising social strife and festering diplomatic tensions, observers are raising questions over the Communist Party’s mastery of its political narrative.

Time then, it seems, for Beijing to rally the ranks in the Chinese propaganda machine.

In a whirlwind tour on Friday, President Xi Jinping traipsed through China’s flagship state-media organizations, offering encouragement to journalists and dabbling in social-media outreach.

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Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, the official Xinhua News Agency, and state broadcaster China Central Television took turns hosting the Chinese president, who urged reporters to do more on-the-ground research and write stories that “the public likes to read.”

Mr. Xi’s visits to state media, his first since taking power three years ago, come amid widening efforts by the Communist Party to curb internal dissent and stifle public criticism.

“It’s a very sensitive time economically, and even without the downturn, China is facing a whole array of really complicated social issues,” said David Bandurski, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based China Media Project. “There is a nervousness [within the Chinese leadership], and this makes media and information control that much more of a priority.”

The government’s grip has grown tighter in recent months. In October, the party introduced a new rule against “improper discussion” of national policies, and just weeks later dismissed the chief editor at a state-run newspaper for publicly contradicting government policy.

Such moves appeared to exasperate even the top editor of the party-run Global Times tabloid, who recently wrote a microblog post calling on Chinese authorities to show greater tolerance for dissenting opinions.

It wasn’t clear if Mr. Xi delivered any message on media controls…

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