China Media analysis

| September 23rd, 2014

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1. Introduction

This analysis describes Chinas media system and should give insight in the media situation in China, it includes the historical development of the media system, a DESTEP analysis, a description of the mass media infrastructure and environment, legal framework and in general about the media freedom in China.

This paper consists of primary research findings as well as desk research. Through two interviews that I conducted I will try to get a triangulation with my prior findings of China’s media system. My first interview partner was Charles Cluster, the chief editor of the blog “chinageeks.org”. “ChinaGeeks” covers everything that relates to China in general, including articles about history, current events etc. My second interview partner was Mitchell Blatt, the managing editor of the blog “Chinahush.com”. “ChinaHush” is primarily about presenting translated China’s media stories and is trying to present a better picture than the western mainstream media.

China is the most populous country on earth with a continually increasing population. Today there are currently 1.4 billion people living in China. Besides having a constantly growing population, China is on the way to becoming one of the leading Superpowers (Peston, 2013). In 2013 China had an economic growth rate of 7.8%, which is almost three times higher compared to the United States (2,8%) (Worldbank, 2013). Nevertheless, United States has still the biggest economy (GDP: US$15685.8 billion) comparing to China (GDP: US$8230 billion).

When you take a look at the world map you can find China in East Asia, neighboring with Mongolia, India, Vietnam and Russia in the north. China is a socialist, capitalist state ruled by a single-party called the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), having Xi Jinping since 2012 as their present and leader. China is a special case when it comes to the regime, on paper China is listed as a socialist state, but in real life they are much more orientated towards capitalism.

The first part of the analysis presents the historical evolvement of the media system in China, beginning in 1949 until today. Followed by a DESTEP media analysis describing demographic, social cultural, technological, ecological and political features of the media system. The DESTEP analysis should give beneficial overview of Chinas media situation. In the second part the media system will be described, starting with the Mass media infrastructure in the print media, television, radio and the internet followed by the legal framework. Subsequently, the paper looks at the media freedom of China focusing on self-censorship, the role of the “alternative” media and the influence of western style media on China’s culture. At the end there will be a short conclusion giving an overview about the core aspects of the analysis.

2. Historical Evolvement: The four phases of the media development

China’s media system is characterized by four different phases, leading to the current media system today. The first phase is the Founding of the new China in 1949 to 1966. The second phase is the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1978. The third phase displays a total change of the media system by Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms. The last phase begins at the Tiananmen square uprising in 1989 still established today.

After the Chinese civil war in 1949, the People’s Republic of China was founded and the Communist party started to rule the country. The shift in power led to general restrictions in the media system. The private ownership of newspapers was abolished and the general media became a party organ with the role to manipulate the media in the party’s interest. Whereas the past probably did not much differentiate in the restriction of China’s media, especially during Japanese occupation and the propaganda of Sun Yat Sen, who is known as the father of modern China in the beginning of the 20st century (Wang, 2014).

Media freedom suffered even more during the Cultural Revolution in the second phase. The Cultural Revolution was determined by Mao Zedong, communist values and the fact that everyone who had another opinion or superior attitude towards him and his part was called an enemy. Mao Zodong, the leader of the Communist party, reduced for instance the television channels to five, three years after the TV was introduced in 1958. The print media was controlled by 43 newspapers from the party itself. In spite of the negative characteristics of the media’s context, the printed media increased rapidly during 1957-1977 by 358%. Also the wired broadcasting, a system with speakers in rural China reached 99 million in 1980, this was used mainly for establishing a communication link between the government and the rural population to spread propaganda (Lee, 1994).

In the third phase, beginning 1978 and ending 1989, Deng Xiaoping ruled China. He led the country towards a socialist market economy and started an open-door policy. This resulted in a media boom, where especially radio and later television profited. In 1987 55% of China’s population had access to television, although in general more in urban areas along the East Coast than in the hinterland. One of Deng Xiaoping’s goals was to reach economic independence by freedom of press and for example a rise of advertising in the media (Ni, 2014).

The last phase began at the Tiananmen uprising in 1989 and goes over into the current day. The Tiananmen uprising was a student demonstration at the Tiananmen Square. Students demonstrated for more freedom, democracy and against governmental corruption. On one hand, incidents resulted in stricter restrictions of freedom of press and an ongoing surveillance of the government. Because of the increase in government surveillance after the Tiananmen uprising, people and organizations started to use their own distribution networks. The Guangzhou Ribao, the daily newspaper in Guangzhou had for example their own distributing network with their own printing press (Lee, 1994). On the other hand, the incidents resulted in new economic incentives which open the market for commercialization.

In this phase, television gained more and more in popularity: In 1990, ownership of television increased by over 19 times in comparison to 1980. One reason for that was the status symbol of the television in China, it stood for economic growth. Because of the increasing use of television and the rising cost of film production the film industry suffered. From 1980 to 1991 the film audience decreased by almost 50%, but the production decrease only by 25% (Lee, 1994).

There are some significant historical influences on China’s Media environment today. Mr. Blatt said in the interview that the Chinese Civil War in the first half of the 20th century had tremendous influences on how the media is set up nowadays. When the Communist Party of China got in to power it created media outlets that expressed their point of view, like the Xinhua News Agency. Xinhua News Agency is still the dominating creator of news in China today, as mentioned earlier in the paper (Appendix B).

Furthermore, the independent media outlets are affected as well, by values gain over the years. Besides culture values also the independent media is regulated by the government as Mr. Blatt mention in the interview. This leads also to the fact that “Chinese media covers Japan somewhat differently than the media elsewhere”. In the interview Mr. Blatt remarks about the example of the Senkauku/Diaoyu Island dispute and the discussion over whether or not the island is part of China, Japan or Taiwan (Appendix B).

3. DESTEP analysis: China media today

China’s media system has changed a lot since the revolution, but there are still many restrictions on freedom of press. In the next part of my media analysis I will use the DESTEP analysis to present an overview of China’s demographic, environment, technological, economic and political factors influences on Chinas media today.

3.1 Demographic

Looking at Chinese population, 1.4 billion people are living in China right now. The majority is between the age of 40 and 50, but the country also has a high youth rate caused by the continual growing population despite the one-child policy. In addition, China has a literacy rate of 95% comparing to USA of 99% (CIA, 2014).

Furthermore, there is growing internet population with about 600 million users. Over 90% of the internet population have a social network account and spends there an average of 46 minutes a day. There are numerous of people using the internet, but most of them are living in urban areas (72%) and the minority are from rural areas (28%). There is also high number of mobile phones users which hit 1.22 billion in 2013. According to the “Chinese Daily” 67.19% connect to the internet with their phone and over half of them use 3G. Following this, you can say that in China new technologies are part of the daily life (Xinhua, 2013).

Figure: 1.1

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Source: Go-global, 2013
The plurality of the people who use a social network in China are in the age between 26 and 30 (Figure 1.1) (Go-global, 2013). This is not very surprising because according to the CIA fact book the majority of the people who are living in China are in the age between 25 and 54 (46,7%). More remarkable is that that the younger generation from 19 to 25 years only account for 19% of social media users in China. Chinese people use different social networks than people in other parts in the world. China’s ruling social network is Qzone (700 million users) where people blogging and sharing music and photos. Then there is Weibo with about 500 million users which is a alternative of Facebook and Twitter combined and also WeChat what is like WhatsApp with about 300 million users (Go-global, 2013).

3.2 Political Factors: Legal regulations

When we take a look at the political factors, we can see that there many different laws about the influence of the media freedom in China. Article 35 in China’s legal code is saying that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration” (Ni, 2014, Press Laws). But in 1994, the propaganda department established the Six No’s, including: No private media ownership, no shareholding, no joint ventures with foreign organization, no discussion of nature of news/press law, no openness for foreign television. Most of these No’s are still followed by the government. Besides the six No’s there is also a “Chinese Newspaper Self-Discipline Agreement” what is saying that journalists must strictly follow all regulations and rules passed by the government (Ni, 2014).
Furthermore, discussions about passed laws and control of the CCP is forbidden. Even though the 41st article is saying that Chinese citizens have the right to criticize the government, there is also the 51st article saying the opposite: “Chinese people may not infringe upon the interest of the state” (Ni, 2014, Press Laws). Therefore, the CCP has the power of decision-making because in a socialist state government and sate is the same thing. All these regulations are controlled and brought into action by the CCP’s central propaganda department.

3.3 Economic influences on China’s media

As mentioned in the introduction, China is more and more becoming the next superpower of the 21st century. The main reason is the continual economic growth. The economic development has thus a big impact on the media development. The growing economy reaches every industry and in the media landscape it finds expression in the ongoing commercialization. Mr. Custer as well as Mr. Blatt approved that the economical influences on China’s media today is caused by commercialization. Mr. Blatt took it even a little further and concluded that “Chinese people have so much disposable income to spend that it has become the biggest film market in the world” (Appendix A, Appendix B).
In 1992 all newspapers were subsidized by the state. Today all newspapers and television stations are mainly financed by advertisement. Despite, that Mr. Custer says that “state-owned outlets are still heavily subsidized by the government” (Appendix A). Therefore, advertisement plays especially an important role in media which are not governmental owned.
The content of the media focuses on business and entertainment and not anymore on reporting the latest news. Moreover, it also leads to more and more advertorials which is something in between a normal editorial article and advertisement. It often looks like a normal article, but includes advertisement purposes. The New York Times is saying that you can buy for $20.000 one page for presenting your business in a magazine (Barboza, 2012).
This happens of course not just in China, but also in the “western world”. Newspapers and magazine like Voque and Forbes consist of many advertorials which a very profitable for these organizations (Filloux, 2013). We also should not forget the influence of big corporations like Walt Disney and News cooperation which are determining the content of our newspapers and television. We have to be aware that these organization goal is to make profit and just present the news, entertainment and advertisement what make the most revenue. As you can see there is not much of a difference between China’s and the western media and therefore is the critic from “The New York Times” incorrect.

3.4 Technologies – Cat and mouse game

On the other side, new technologies shape China media environment, like the internet. China has the biggest online community in the world with around 618 million internet users. Therefore, the internet is a place where netizens, Chinese people who are on the internet, speak their minds.

Through the continually growing internet community, China’s government has difficulties to control the media. Hence, the internet is censored in many ways. Some sites like Google and Facebook are totally censored and pages like Wikipedia are put offline in times of major discussions in China. Instead, Qzone, Weibo and Wechat are the ruling social networks in China (Go-global, 2013).

In addition there is also the called “50 cent” army which pays netizens to represent the party point of view. There are supposed to be two million people involved in that process, getting paid by tax money (Lam, 2013). At this point, more and more netizens try to overcome the censorship by using proxy servers to get contact to western media and social networks like Facebook. There is no exact number published, but there are rumors on the Internet that are saying that over 95 million Chinese people are on Facebook (Sabrina, 2013).

There also the so called Talk Radio where people have anonymously discussions about China’s problems. It is known to be the freest media, what makes it very popular. In this case the propaganda department of CCP is a little bit more reserved than in Newspapers and Television because Talk Radios are very popular in China and the government does not want to get into conflicts with Chines citizens by restricting it (CIA, 2014)

3.5 Environment

Because of the rising economy, China did not pay much attention to environmental factors in the past. As a consequence Chinese cities struggle with increasingly high air pollution. Beijing air pollution is for example 40 times worse than the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the past there were not many discussions about environmental problems through the media. People could get their information from the outside, like a Twitter account of the US embassy (Xu, 2014). Today sustainability and caring about the environment became really popular. Nowadays there are many documentaries, books and news addressing environmental issues (China Climate Change, 2012).

But the propaganda department tries to censor very negative aspects if they are based on party decisions. In the interview Mr. Blatt said a reason for that is that the CCP is “publicly trying to cut pollution”. Nevertheless the media has to be still careful about reporting, for example, Mr. Blatt mentioned a case where the government censored a report claiming that Beijing was “unlivable” (Appendix B). Also Mr. Custer explained that in the past it was difficult to report about pollution, but in recent years it has become easier (Appendix A).

3.6 Socio-Cultural

When we take a look at the norms and values of the people living in China it becomes visible that there is a big power distance. Chinese have accepted inequality and also, for example, the power of the only party CCP. The Chinese society is also very collective, even though it is a very masculine society. People are success-oriented and often sacrifice family and leisure priorities for work. In addition, most Chinese people feel comfortable with ambiguity and feel no need to have an explanation for everything (Hofestede, 2014).

One the one side there is much criticism directed at the ruling party, but more discussions revolve around fundamental issues, because of the accepted power distance. On the other side there is a trend that more and more people do not believe in news. This could be because of the contact to the western society through the internet.

Another socio-cultural aspect is the growing confidence of Chinese people about their power and influence. Which is understandable because China has not just problems like polluted mega cities and media restrictions. In general the living in China is good and affordable for everyone, not forgetting the booming economy (Fallows, 2013).

Concerning censorship and social-cultural movements, Chinese people do not really care, Mr. Custer said in the interview: “most people don’t care much about politics, they just want to do their job earn money, watch some good TV or movies and have fun in their free time”. This is of course not much different in other parts of the world, which shows us the limitation of the media (Appendix A). In my point of there is still a difference between nations and their interest in news, comparing out of own experiences Germans are more interested in following the news than people from the USA.

Besides not caring, many people would also support censorship to a certain extent: this is “because they see China as having a distinct culture from the West. China is a Confucian country, and Confucianism emphasizes responsibility between family and government and ruler and also something of a hierarchical view of society” Mr. Blatt said in the interview. Another pro argument that Mr. Blatt is mentioned is that many people “think reform shouldn’t come too quickly, even if they support reform, because that will cause chaos” like in the Cultural Revolution (Appendix B).

On the other side there some groups, who fight against censorship in China and for a revolution and democracy. It is also interesting that activist like Han Han who is one of the most famous bloggers in the world, support reforms to come more slowly as Mr. Blatt revealed in the interview. Han Han is a blogger who is challenging and questioning Chinese leaders and even got honored from the Time Magazine to the top ten influential people in the world in 2010 (Custer, 2014).

4.   Mass Media Infrastructure and Environment

When we look now at the mass media infrastructure and environment, China’s mass media has been growing since the 1980’s in all directions, it is more diversified and colorful than it used to be due to a range of technologies, including wired systems, satellite, and the internet. Today you can find about 2,000 newspapers in China, 9,000 magazines, 273 radio stations and 352 television stations covering all different kinds of topics, ranging from economic, politics, cultural, and entertainment (China.org, 2014).

Xinhua News Agency, located in the China’s capital of Beijing, is the primary news agency since its funding from the Republic of China in 1949. It is not only China’s largest news agency, but also one of the world’s leading news agencies with 100 branches worldwide, especially in Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Latin America and Africa. By purchasing many other Asian news agencies in Japan, South Korea and also Singapore it has achieved an influential status. Besides Xinhua News Agency there is also the China News Service which primarily supplies news to Chinese people living overseas and other interested audiences (China.org, 2014).

4.1 Print media

In the time period from 1950 to 2000, the print media market increased almost ten-folded, leading to about 2,000 newspapers today. For this reason it is the largest newspaper market in the world at the moment. On the one side, there are state run newspapers like the People’s Daily which are more traditional and propagating for party’s interest. On the other side, there are the commercial newspapers showcasing greater freedom with increasing diversity and colorfulness. Nevertheless, all printed media is controlled by the China’s Communist Party (CCP), which happens a lot through Xinhua News Agency, reflecting official polices and promoting government propaganda (China.org, 2014).

The largest newspapers in China are Reference News (Cānkǎo Xiāoxī), People’s Daily (Rénmín Rìbào) and Global Times (Huánqiú shíbào). Reference News is the largest and most popular of these three newspapers, it distributes about 3.4 million newspapers every day. It is owned by Xinhua News Agency and translates most of the time international news stories in to Chinese. The People’s Daily, 2.8 million copies a day and Global Times, 2 million respectively are both parts of CCP and publishes the most influential articles especially written for the working class. As a results, none of the major newspapers reflecting another point of view than CCP due to the connection of Xinhua News Agency with CCP (Danwei, 2013).

On the other side there are many local newspapers, which actually display a great variety of different ideologies. An example are the newspapers in Guangdong which are more liberal orientated. Mr. Blatt mentions an example of “Southern Window”, a magazine which explores ideas of what legitimate government means and “Southern Weekend” focusing on corruption. Today there is an editor from CCP working for Southern Weekend to combat corruption stories (Appendix A, Appendix B).

4.2 Television and Radio

Looking at the radio, China has one large Radio station called China National Radio, it consists of 9 channels which broadcast about 200 hours daily. In addition every province and region in China has its own local radio stations. There is also one international radio named China Radio International (CRI) for the western world covering almost everything from politics to economics (China.org, 2014).

The television landscape is not much different to the radio stations. There is one large television network with 20 channels called China Central Television (CCTV), specialized in News, Children programs and music, hence it is the most powerful station inside China. Through the relationship to over 250 other television organizations in 130 different countries it has also a global impact. CTTV is state run and thus a part of the party organ of the CCP.

Besides the CCTV, there are also other TV stations like Hunan TV Phonenix TV, Dragon TV and Travel TV displaying entertainment, documentaries and news, not forgetting several local and regional TV stations (PR Newswire, 2014). Mr. Blatt from “Chinahush” confirmed this, saying “The biggest thing of Chinese television is satellite TV. Almost every province has at least one satellite TV network”. Moreover, he stated that most of them are just popular in their region, only a few like Hunan TV, Zhejiang TV and Jiangsu TV are popular around the country.

Looking at the content of channels like Dragon TV or Hunan TV, it is more or less focused on entertainment like sitcoms and reality shows. Mr. Blatt mentions a TV show called “Love Apartment which is like “Friends”, a dating show named “Fei Cheng Wurao” and another reality show with the name “Where Are We Going, Dad” which are among the most popular shows in China. As you can see these channels are all orientated towards foreign television (Appendix B).

In terms of the state owned CCTV network, we can see that it focusses more on news and traditional entertainment. Mr. Blatt explained in the interview that the majority of the Chinese think that is more or less boring, this counts especially for the younger generation (Appendix B). “Xinwen Lianbo” is the most popular news show which is broadcasted by CCTV. This news show reports also sometimes on scandalous events, like environmental problems, food safety etc. which often cause “a sensation in the public” Mr. Blatt said. He mentions an example of KFC which has had major problems recovering from bad imaged caused by a CCTV report which stated that KFC used drugged chickens. Another example is a raid after CCTV reported on prostitution in Dongguan even though other local channels reported about the happening already earlier (Appendix B).

Furthermore, considering the censorship topic, all television channels are restricted by the state – also the “independent” companies who own channels like Dragon TV (Appendix A). Therefore, they usually do not push the boundaries on news reporting. Mr. Custer states in the interview “there is a line that no one is allowed to cross”. There is also censorship on foreign style television, like dating and reality shows. Besides censoring TV shows, CCP also established regulations in 2012 to combat foreign values presented by these channels (dGenerate Films, 2014, Appendix B).

4.3 Internet

Over the last decade, the Internet has gained significant popularity in China’s media landscape. This is shown by the continually increasing internet user rate, currently about 600 million. Presently 2,000 out of 10,000 traditional newspapers are available on the internet, underlining increasing importance of the web for the news media. Moreover, there is also a tendency that increasing numbers of people are using their cell phones for reading the news. Besides reading the news, they also watch TV programs on their cell phones via China’s mobile network which has already 150,000 subscribers since 2005 (China.org, 2014). Mr. Custer shares this opinion and said in the interview: “people turn to social media instead of the traditional media”. Nevertheless, PR newswire reports that traditional media like newspapers, television and radio is still the most trusted news sources in Chinese society (PR Newswire, 2014).

China’s internet landscape is very different compared to our western landscape (See Figure 1.2, Appendix C). News pages like New York Times and BBC are censored and also western social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not available in China. Instead, China formed their own online media environment to prevent the need for Facebook or Twitter. Qzone is China’s largest social network where 712 million users share photos, music and can also write their own blogs. Qzone is more target towards high school students and younger rural kids (Appendix B). Then there is Weibo, which is similar to Twitter having over 500 million users, not forgetting gaming networks like 51.com with over 259 million users (Go-global, 2013). When we take a look at search engines it increasingly plays an important role in how we find and read news on the internet. In China Google is censored, and instead China has its own search engine called Baidu, the dominant player in China’s search engine market with a market share of 80% (PR Newswire, 2014).

Consequently, there is a big impact of social networks and new technologies on China’s media. Mr. Blatt explains in the interview how challenging it is for the government to censor social media. The problem is that it is impossible to censor a post right away which leads to an easy exchange of information through networks like Weibo long before the official news. He also refers to an example of the Wenzohou train crash in 2011, where people posted pictures on Weibo. In this case he stated that “the government probably would have wanted to have the news released more slowly after they had a grasp of how they wanted to handle it” (Appendic B).

When we look at the readership of media, usually the younger and urban population is more for liberal outlets, while the rural and older generation prefer more content produced by the government. The younger generation for example rather would watch Hunan TV instead of the CCTV channels. Mr. Blatt mentioned in the interview “The young and urban are more likely to search for more open and liberal outlets”. Consequently, Blatt explains that the CCTV’s viewership is declining due to that fact that the younger generation prefers other outlets (Appendix B).

5.   Legal Framework

As already mentioned in the DESTEP analysis, China’s legal framework is very controversial. On the one side, the laws are saying that citizens enjoy freedom of speech. On the other side, there are articles that refute this statement. Article 35 in China’s legal code is saying that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration” (Ni, 2014, Press Laws). Whereas the Six No’s, include for instance no discussion of nature of news/press law and no openness for foreign television. Furthermore, discussions about passed laws and control of the CCP is forbidden. Even though the 41st article is saying that Chinese citizens have the right to criticize the government, there is also the 51st article saying the opposite: “Chinese people may not infringe upon the interest of the state” (Ni, 2014, Press Laws).

The CCP has also the power of decision-making when it comes to controversial situations. The “Chinese Newspaper Self-Discipline Agreement” is saying that journalist must strictly follow all regulation and rules passed by the government (Ni, 2014).Therefore, the CCP has the power of decision-making and the CCP’s central propaganda department is responsible for controlling China’s media.

Reporters without Borders ranked China 173 of 179 countries in its worldwide freedom of press index (Reports without Borders, 2013). The low ranking is caused by many different factors such as governmental censorship, detention of reporters and interference with foreign media (Xu, 2014). One example of this is the censorship guidelines which are circulated weekly from CCP propaganda department to give editors a clue of what topics they can or cannot publish. Another example is the shutdown of Sina Weibo’s comment function for three days in 2012 due to rumors of a planned coup in Beijing (Voigt, 2012).

Licensing and publishing of, for example, newspapers is also very complicated because it always needs to receive the approval of either the Press and Publication Administration (PPA) or the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). The publisher needs to have a “sponsoring unit” which is not clearly defined, the business needs a scope statement and at least $40,000 in registered capital. In addition, the producer can only publish in a foreign or minority language, if it has an extra permission. This counts also when a foreign organization is involved.

Concluding, you can say that licensing, for example a newspaper business in China, is very complicated, it shows how Chinese officials work against “the free flow information” and obtain authority to control what can or cannot be published (Article 19, 2007). This accounts also for other parts of the China’s legal code which is far away from “freedom of speech” and liberalization. The legal framework is mostly a vague guideline for media outlets to follow, the following part about media freedom will give more in depth insight of the situation.

6.   Media Freedom -How works censorship in China?

As already described earlier, the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP is responsible for the media representing the party’s interest. The Central Propaganda Department (CPD) uses more a hard power approach, everyone who makes a stand against the values of the CCP has to face the consequences, from losing their job up to imprisonment. Therefore, it is more and more common that reporters and editors censor themselves. Emily Parker, a journalist of the “New Republic” summarizes that “self-censorship in China is a quieter tale of unwritten articles, avoided topics and careful phrasing” (Parker, New Republic, 2013). A journalist of the Southern Weekend reported that they need to learn “to exercise their own judgment in navigating the censorship minefield” (Gao, The Atlantic, 2013). Mr. Blatt clarifies in the interview that people who report on secrets of the government or call for example, revolution, have to face tough consequences up to long terms in Chinese prisons. As well as local reporters, foreign reporters also have to be careful on content that they are reporting (Appendix B).

Self-censorship does not just happen among Chinese people; foreign journalists also self-censor, due to that fact that the CPD is recently getting more and more aggressive to foreign journalists if they cover issues about corruption or injustice. This likely happens because the government is concerned about losing power over their citizens when incidents like the censoring of the New Year article of the Southern Weekend in 2013 go viral. Foreign journalists like Dorinda Elliott feel ashamed that they censor themselves, but sometimes they do not have another chance because they are worried about not getting a visa again. Elliott said: “I am ashamed to admit that I personally have worried about risk of reporting on sensitive topics” (Dorinda Elliott, China File, 2013). Recently, China Hush reported about two German reporters from the ARD and Spiegel which got attacked by “Chinese people” who are probably in connection with propaganda department of the CCP (Tepper, 2014).

Another problem is that many journalists do not know where the line of is, hence they must be even more careful. On the other side, there are also exceptions to the rule and there are journalist who take the risks; for example Jeremy Goldkorn founder of Danwei, a Chinese media research service who states in the interview on China File that he thinks it is important to report the truth and take the risk. Interesting is also that not just foreign journalist censor themselves, also Hollywood and authors of book do it out of financial reason so they are able to sell their movies and books in China (Dorinda Elliott, 2013).

In addition, I also want to point out the difference between self-censorship in China and the kind self-censorship in the western world which Rupert Murdoch for example empowers. When we look at China’s media censorship it is more general the CPD has almost control over all China’s media. When we look in the western world people also have the possibility to jump off the train when they do not want to write in the voice of people like Rupert Murdoch. They have the possibility to create blogs and news pages and can report in their own voice. In China this is not the case, because the CPD has at least influence on every part of the media if it through a “50 cent” army which response to critical post on blogs or social networks in the party interest or through other interventions. Concluding, you say that there no possibility of alternative voice in the Chinese mass media due to the hard power approach of the CCP.

6.1 Alternative media in China: Southern Weekend

In the next part I want to focus on the effect of media freedom on the alternative media in China; in this case the example of the Southern Weekend. Southern Weekend or also called Southern Weekly is a weekly published newspaper based in Guangzhou. It has a more liberal voice than the mainstream media like News References, currently distributing about 1.7 million copies on a weekly basis (Danwei, 2013).

Southern Weekend started off in 1984 as an experiment of the Southern Media Group as a market driven and profitable newspaper. However, Zuo Fang, the first chief editor of the Southern Weekend had a different idea he wanted to make the newspaper “a platform of general enlightenment and enrichment”. Therefore, he had to face troubles on a regular basis with the CPD. After Zuo Fang left the Southern Weekend, Jiang Yiping took it over and took it even a step father “promoting justice, showing care, standing for conscience” and made it possible that newspaper was able to cover a lot of corruption stories. At the end this all had consequences and Jiang Yiping lost her job as along with many other important reporters and editors of the Southern Weekend (Gang, 2013).

Recently, the Southern Weekend was again in the news and evoked a big protest not only on Weibo but also on China’s streets about freedom of press, due to a typical intervention in the news reporting of the Southern Weekend by the CPD. The propaganda department changed significantly the New Year’s article of 2013. It is important to mention that in China, special editions like the New Year’s article are a big thing and even more so for Southern Weekend which usually always gives a clear statement about what happened in China in the last year and also integrates western ideas like choosing persons of the year which is not typical in China. The CCP of course does not like this kind of liberal voice in such important articles and therefore, it changed even the title to a quote of the people’s daily (Gang, 2013). The change of the New Year article is not a curiosity, alone in 2012 Southern Weekend receive more than 1,000 reports of topics that could be covered. In general you can see that even the alternative media is tremendously influenced by censorship not just by the CCP but also self-censorship (Gang, 2013).

When we take a look at social media and censorship which probably will soon be an alternative news source due through the fact that more and more people read news through social networks. A research from three Harvard University professors looking at what kind of content is censored in social networks like Weibo, shows that the CPD allows government criticism but silences collective expression. The research found that out by comparing critical post with collective expressions and they obtained that the censorship program is aimed at preventing collective action by silencing comments that represent and reinforce social mobilization. This is all done by keyword filtering, a 20,000 to 50,000 internet police and the already mentioned “50 cent” army (King, Pan, & Roberts, 2013).

6.2 Influence of Western/American style media on Chinese culture

Western way of life – or to be more accurate the American way of life – had also a huge impact in China. Earlier I mentioned the popularity of western reality shows in Chinese television. There are an increasing number of people who prefer to watch for example Hunan TV for entertainment like “idol style” shows instead of watching the state owned television stations which show more documentaries and news. At this point, the CPD is trying to regulate local television stations, and wants to increase the number of “morality building” shows like documentaries and news. Besides by increasing the number of “morality building” shows the CPD wants to cut back on American-style television like singing competitions. There are, for example, regulations that state that these shows can only be streamed once a week during prime time television (7:30-10:30 p.m.) (Kuo, 2013).

The question is why are authorities restricting these kinds of shows even when they are so popular? There are two possible reasons. One reason that I already mentioned is that the number of Chinese people who watch public television stations instead of state owned ones, is rapidly increasing. Another reason could be that authorities do not like the populist and western input that the shows promote. In addition, the voting system in singing competitions promote a democratic way of thinking. All of this could than lead to the problem that the Chinese government may lose control over their citizens (Li, 2001).

So, what impact has western style of television on China’s culture and way life? First of all it is a controversial topic because one the side, China’s culture still varies significantly to the American or western culture. On the other side, you can see in the popularity of western style television shows that people enjoy it. This could be caused because western style of television is much more appeasing towards the audience. Theodor Adorno, a German sociologist and philosopher argued that “capitalism fed people with the products of a ‘culture industry’ – the opposite of ‘true’ art – to keep them passively satisfied and politically apathetic” (Gauntlett, 2014).

If we assume that Chinese economic reforms and for example also western style television transforms the ideologies of Chinese people, we can also ask ourselves if this a good thing or not? In my point of view it depends, the western world will have in this case an economical advantage, which is good for western people, but if you take in consideration everyone than we also can end up in a one side world controlled even more by the Western and American empire. On the whole, I think China’s decision by restricting their Western style of television is a good way to prevent a fast cultural transformation, but it is still not a solution. The problem and it always will be the problem is that the American’s are just more mature in terms of media development and control (Redford, 2014). Given the quality and attractiveness of western media, the Chinese government protects its own culture, power and status quo from being challenged by western life styles.

7.   Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say that Chinese media today is shaped by many different factors. The major factor is by far the economic development in China which changes the whole system. Lately there is growing autonomy and diversity of China’s media, due the advertisement business. The growing autonomy led for example to coverage of environmental issues in China. Besides that Chinese media is also shape by censorship by the authorities of the CCP as well self-censorship.

When we look at the historic of China media system, it gets clear that the civil war and the rise of the Communist Part of China in first half of the 20th century impacted the Chinese media environment. Traditional media for example is still tremendously controlled by the governmental party, CCP. This happens not just by owning big newspapers like the People’s Daily, but also through the Xinhua News Agency which was founded by the CCP in the past as well.

The Internet and new forms of media are more open and present simultaneously a more diverse and colorful content. It is impressive that the majority of Chinese people do not really mind censorship because they perceive their culture as something unique. Moreover, the Chinese media environment has some differences, the internet landscape for example is very different compared to the western landscape of Facebook, Google and Twitter. China’s internet environment is led by Weibo, Tencent, Baidu and many other small organizations. This also counts for the television landscape, even though China is copying western entertainment shows. In addition, the rural television medium plays a significant part in conveying information to the Chinese people. When look at the print media, the most read newspaper is the People’s Daily, a more alternative newspaper would be the Southern Weekend portraying a more liberal view, which does not mean that everything can be reported.

Looking at Chinese media freedom in general it is clear that the Chinese legal framework is very controversial insofar that it gives the CCP complete control over media freedom in China. Therefore, the Central Propaganda Department is using more a hard power approach for limiting media freedom in China. This also led to the fact that more and more reporters censor themselves including foreign journalists who are worried about the results if they would write the whole truth. You can also find self-censorship in the western world but what make self-censorship in China different is that people cannot do their own thing like some journalist start their own blogs in western world; in China all the media is controlled by the CPD.

Looking at the internet and social networks CPD actually focus more on preventing collective actions than just individual critical post about the government. There is also more and more an impact of western and American style of media in China, like western reality shows or like the southern weekend which portray western values. This impact is not welcomed by Chinese authorities because they are worried about the western input that reality shows promote which could potentially lead to loss of power.

On the whole the country is still very far away from a free press, where everyone is able to declare their opinion. China is using more a hard power approach which includes the 50cent army, the control of the CCP’s propaganda department. Media characterizes itself through censorship in all different kind of fields. But the media in the western world is not really free either, it is owned by big cooperation that use more a soft power approach and also determine the content.

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Appendices

Appendix A – Interview with Charles Custer- http://chinageeks.org/

1. How influence China’s history still the media today?

I’m not too sure what you mean by this question?

2. How many channels are there? How independent are they?

If you mean TV channels, there are a lot (it varies by where you live), and many of them are run by independent companies. But any media outlet, TV or otherwise, is ultimately answerable to the Communist Party, so “independent” companies are subject to the same restrictions as state-owned channels in terms of what they can broadcast.

3. What sort of ideology do they portray and pursue?

That depends on the outlet. State-owned outlets obviously push the party line, but there are some independent media outlets (for example the Southern Media papers) that are quite liberal and try to be critical of government policy. This can only go so far, though, because like any media outlet they have overseers in the communist party who can force them not to run stories, or fire editors or reporters, if they don’t like the content. So while there’s a big variety in terms of ideology and tone in the Chinese press, there is a line that no one is allowed to cross, and sometimes all media outlets are required to run certain stories or op-ed pieces. Media outlets also get directives from the government all the time about what they should or shouldn’t cover, although the more liberal outlets sometimes find ways to work around these directives.

4. How informative are they (e g. environmental issues: pollution in China’s mega cities)?

In general, they’re as informative as they’re allowed to be, which can change rapidly. A few years ago, for example, there were a lot of restrictions about what they could report about pollution, so they weren’t very informative at all. But once the government lifted those rules and allowed them to start reporting about stuff like PM2.5, most outlets became quite informative.

5. What sort of people watch or listen to them? Are there noteworthy distinction between for example age, rural or urban areas?

I’m not sure about this.

5. How effect legal regulation China’s media today?

This is answered above in several places; the big-picture answer is that any media outlet must have an overseeing Communist Party committee that has the final say on what it can publish.

7. How do you see economical influence on China’s media today, like the growing economy?

Well, the Chinese press has become increasingly commercial, and even the state-owned outlets are being pressed to create programming that’s more popular and can generate revenue on its own. But as of now, most state-owned outlets are still heavily subsidized by the government.

8. How do you see the influence of technologies on China’s media today? Taking in consideration rising internet population as well as use of smart phones and social media?

Well obviously the media is taking advantage of the rise in social media like everyone else is. It’s also a kind of competition though, as people turn to social media instead of the traditional media for some of their information/news.

9. How is the impact of China’s social media networks like Qzone, Weibo and Wechat?

See above.

10. How do you see the impact of western media through the Internet? Is there an influence of Facebook and Twitter even though they are censored?

Facebook and Twitter: zero influence. No one uses them.

Western media: some influence. When the Western press does a big story about China that isn’t covered in China, word usually spreads on Chinese social media anyway so people do find out about it.

11. How does the majority of Chinese people think about censorship? Are there any social-cultural movements?

Everyone is aware that censorship exists, but most people don’t really care I don’t think. China is like anywhere, really: most people don’t care that much about politics, they just want to do their job, earn money, watch some good TV or movies and have fun in their free time. When something (like the 7/23 train crash) happens that affects regular people, then everyone gets upset about censorship, but for the most part people don’t really care.

There are lots of dissidents and groups that fight censorship in China, and internet users are always finding clever ways around it. But for the most part people don’t care too much.

12. How is the relationship to western media?

There isn’t much of one.

Appendix B – Interview with Mitchell Blatt from Chinahush

1. How influence China’s history still the media today?

The main media outlets are especially influenced by the history of the Chinese Civil War in the first half of the 20th century. The Communist Party of China was influenced by the theory that media should serve the interests of the people and educate the people. In practice that means that the CPC created media outlets that expressed their views and told the people to support them. Some of China’s leading media sources today were founded by the CPC in that time period. Xinhua, the government’s press agency, was founded by the CPC in 1931 and was positioned as the “eyes and tongue” of the Party. Now Xinhua articles can be seen in many outlets, often being republished on other websites and in newspapers. People’s Daily, a leading government paper, was founded in 1946 and CCTV was founded in the 1958, after the People’s Republic of China had been founded.

There are lots of relatively independent media outlets now. They would still be influenced by the values they picked up over the years of Chinese history, such as the long-term cultural values and also the more recent history as noted above. Even if they aren’t government-owned, they still operate under the media environment regulated by the government. Moreover, the coverage of certain issues reflects China’s historical view of the world. Obviously Chinese media covers Japan somewhat differently than the media elsewhere. For example, in the recent dispute over ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, China’s media is pretty much in agreement that the islands are theirs, based on their claims of discovering the islands hundreds of years ago, but other countries can’t be expected to be influenced by the same historical views.

2. How many channels are there? How independent are they?

There are hundreds of television channels in China. The biggest thing for Chinese television is satellite TV. Almost every province has at least one satellite TV network. Most of them are owned by private-sector companies. But only a few of them are popular nationwide. Hunan TV, Zhejiang TV, Jiangsu TV, and Dragon TV (from Shanghai) are the most popular, and people around the country will watch them, but most of the others don’t have many viewers. Those TV channels will produce exciting content, sit coms, and reality shows.

For example, Shanghai TV produced “Love Apartment” (爱情公寓), a Friends-styled sit com, Jiangsu TV broadcasts the dating show “Fei Cheng Wurao” (非诚勿扰), and Hunan TV broadcasts “Where Are We Going, Dad?” (爸爸去哪兒), which are among some of the most popular shows now.

The thing about those shows is that they are more stylized on foreign television, unlike the kinds of shows produced by the government that the people find boring. For example, “Love Apartment” is like “Friends,” and “Where Are We Going, Dad?” is based on a South Korean concept. But such shows can also cause government censorship because the government doesn’t really like the kind of liberal values embodied in dating shows, reality shows, and such. For example, in 2011, the singing competition “Super Girls” was canceled, and in 2012, there were regulations on dating shows in order to curb the risqué nature of some of them. (Here is one link about those regulations: http://dgeneratefilms.com/dgenerate-titles/sarft-tightens-regulations-on-excessive-entertainment )

Also about TV channels, usually outlets will have multiple channels, like one main channel, one news channel, and one movie channel, or something. As such, CCTV has 15 channels plus foreign language channels.

3. What sort of ideology do they portray and pursue?

The independent satellite channels are more popular for their entertainment shows than their news shows. For the most part, they don’t push the boundaries on news reporting. The most popular TV news show is still the CCTV news show “Xinwen Lianbo.” When CCTV reports on something scandalous, whether it be corruption, food safety problems, or crime, it often causes a sensation in the public. They do report on quality problems at private companies relatively often. KFC is still trying to recover their public image after CCTV reported negatively on them a few times in the past few years, including for using drugged chickens ( http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20121220000113&cid=1206 ) and having dirty ice cubes ( http://www.china.org.cn/business/2013-07/26/content_29534654.htm ). After CCTV reported on prostitution in Dongguan, Guangdong last month, there was a large scale raid. There have been reports by local Guangdong channels on Dongguan’s prostitution in the past.

There seems to be a greater variety of ideologies on display in the print media. For example, there are multiple newspapers from each major city and magazines available across the country at newsstands, and many of the outlets are somewhat liberal and critical of the government. The outlets in Guangdong, perhaps because of its vicinity to Hong Kong, which has a much free-er media environment, seem to be the most liberal. For example Southern Window (南风穿) magazine often writes articles exploring the ideas of what legitimate government means, and Southern Weekend (南方周末) newspaper tries to investigate government corruption from time to time, but that has resulted in many of Southern Weekend’s employees being fired over the years. Most recently the government forced Southern Weekend to run a government-written editorial in place of their own editorial, which caused a stir over new years. ( http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1119378/outrage-guangdong-newspaper-forced-run-party-commentary )

4. How informative are they (e g. environmental issues: pollution in China’s mega cities)?

On environmental issues, China’s media has become much more informative in recent years. Now that China’s government is publicly trying to cut pollution, there is more access to information about pollution, and you will see newspapers reporting about the levels of PM2.5. ChinaHush has recently translated some of those articles. ( http://www.chinahush.com/2014/02/16/beijing-issues-blue-warning-for-pollution-after-lantern-festival-fireworks-32-other-cities-experienced-heavy-pollution/ )

But still you can’t go too far. One report claimed that Beijing was becoming “unlivable” due to pollution, but the government censored that report. ( http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/pollution-02132014172135.html )

On most issues, it is about how far the government will let you go. If it helps their agenda, which, in this case is to cut pollution, then they will allow it. The government has admitted that pollution is a problem, so if you say it is a problem (but not too big of a problem), then no problem. The media can report on corruption stories in some cases if it is about a local issue, for example, if the story doesn’t get up to someone too high.

5. What sort of people watch or listen to them? Are there noteworthy distinction between for example age, rural or urban areas?

The young and urban are more likely to search for more open and liberal outlets, and the old and rural are more likely to enjoy government-produced or conservative outlets. For example, many of CCTV’s readers are older, and CCTV’s viewership numbers for its main news program have been declining somewhat. The young would be more likely to watch Hunan TV for entertainment also.

6. How effect legal regulation China’s media today?

Government regulation affects all levels of Chinese media. Firstly, every outlet operates under Chinese law, and that allows for people to be arrested if they report on something deemed to be a state secret or call for revolution or something. But aside from the law there is also the fact that the government–at the local level as well as the national level–can use the police or plainclothes police mobs to prevent people from reporting on some issues. ChinaHush recently reported on some examples of attacks on foreign media ( http://www.chinahush.com/2014/02/23/the-3-worst-attacks-on-foreign-journalists-in-china-in-2013-2/ ), and the same, or worse, can happen to domestic media. Then there are also regulations about who is allowed to publish. Magazines need publishing licenses, so the government can deny someone a publishing license.

7. How do you see economical influence on China’s media today, like the growing economy?

China’s growing economy has clearly had an impact on entertainment programming. The success of the satellite TV channels was made possible by the economy. Chinese people have so much disposable income to spend that it has become the biggest film market in the world. But it is a challenge for local companies, because Chinese people mostly like Hollywood films more than Chinese films. The government tries to help Chinese films by limiting the number of foreign films allowed in China, but films like “Spiderman” and “Batman” still earn much more than Chinese films. As for China’s entertainment economy, to see if they can adapt to create more profitable local productions (and even on TV, original productions that don’t copy foreign TV shows as much) will be an interesting story.

8. How do you see the influence of technologies on China’s media today? Taking in consideration rising internet population as well as use of smart phones and social media?

9. How is the impact of China’s social media networks like Qzone, Weibo and Wechat?

These two questions are related, so I will answer them together.

Social media and new technology has had a big impact on China’s media. Although the government tries to control Sina Weibo, it is impossible to monitor every post from hundreds of millions of users, and inevitably some posts will get through without being censored. Even if they are censored, sometimes they are viewed millions of times and spread to other websites before they can be censored. So, social media has decreased the government’s control of news and opinion somewhat.

A perfect example is the Wenzhou train crash in 2011. So many people have smart phones that the news was on Weibo long before the government reported it. People who were on the train posted about some problems they were facing and then people nearby quickly snapped and shared photos of the disaster. The government probably would have wanted to have the news released more slowly after they had a grasp of how they wanted to handle it.

Shortly thereafter, the government began to burry the train, and some Weibo users wrote that the government was burying the train too soon without investigating it. Then, at a press conference, a reporter asked a skeptical question about the government’s story on the train crash, and the spokesman said, “Whether or not you believe it, I believe it,” and his comment became a joke on Weibo. So the people can spread their opinion quickly and mock the government more efficiently than before.

Also, through blogging, young and rebellious authors like Han Han have a voice to express their opinions to lots of people. People have visited Han Han’s blog over 500 million times, yet when he tried to start a print magazine, it got shutdown after just a few issues, so clearly the internet is more open.

That would apply for the other social media outlets, too. QQ and it’s properties, such as QZone, are more targeted towards high school students and young rural kids. WeChat is a good messaging application that many people use in place of text messaging, because its free.

10. How do you see the impact of western media through the Internet? Is there an influence of Facebook and Twitter even though they are censored?

There is a very small and engaged contingent of Chinese people on Twitter, but I would say its not mainstream to the average Chinese person. Most Chinese people are content to communicate among themselves on Weibo. In terms of Western websites that are blocked, like NY Times and such, most people don’t read them.

11. How does the majority of Chinese people think about censorship? Are there any social-cultural movements?

Chinese people are aware of the censorship. Some people oppose it, some support it, and a lot are ambivalent about it. The reasons why some people would support it are because they see China as having a distinct culture from the West. China is a Confucian country, and Confucianism emphasizes responsibility between family and government and ruler and also something of a hierarchical view of society. The view is that if the ruler is just to his people, the people should be responsible to him, and then the government tries to claim it is just. If the government knocks down some people’s homes to build the Olympic stadium, for example, the argument in support of the government is that the Olympics will benefit the vast majority of Chinese people, so we should take all of the people it benefits into account over the few people it hurts. And many Chinese people agree, to some degree, with such thinking. The same thing applies, they would argue, to some degree of censorship.

Also, Chinese people often say, “There are so many Chinese people.” They think reform shouldn’t come too quickly, even if they support reform, because that will cause chaos. That view is also colored by the Cultural Revolution. Since there were so many societal changes during that time, they don’t want to risk too much instability like that and might support a strong government to maintain stability.

There is much attention focused on outspoken political activists like Ai Weiwei and Chen, but they only make up a small part of the people. Even a relatively rebellious media personalities like Han Han wrote 3 posts in 2012 on revolution and democracy, and he said he supported reform to come more slowly.

12. How is the relationship to western media?

As noted, Chinese people really like Western entertainment media. And Chinese media likes to emulate Western media. So I think there is a good relationship with Western entertainment media. But the interest in Western news media isn’t as much for the average person.

Appendix C – Internet media landscape

Figure 1.2: Internet media landscape
figure2

Source: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/updated-white-paper-from-pr-newswire-explores-chinas-changing-media-landscape-218828931.html


 

Luca Fischer
S1067203
Zwolle 17.04.14
Windesheim Honours College
International Communication & Media Development

5 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. Rens says:

    Thank youuu Luca! This is awesome and is gonna help me big time with my project ;p

  2. voiceofhomer says:

    The only thing China wants or needs from the US or the west is good nasty porn and XXX rated web sites.

  3. Gary Rice says:

    Quite an interesting read

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