Thursday, March 4, 2010

302) Chinese midia: changing, hopefully for good...

In an unusually co-ordinated campaign, more than a dozen Chinese newspapers published an editorial calling for a reform of the household-registration (“hukou”) system, which deprives tens of millions of rural migrants of access to many public services in the country’s big cities. The editorial soon vanished from most of the papers’ websites.
See article:

The Chinese are coming
To a sitting room, mobile telephone or supermarket screen near you soon
The Economist, Mar 4th 2010

ON MARCH 1st China Daily got its biggest makeover since the newspaper was launched in 1981 as China’s first English-language daily. As well as a new look, the paper is boosting the number of its foreign correspondents. With a new investigative-reporting feature, China Daily said that it was aiming to “set the news agenda instead of just follow it”.

So far, this agenda seems unlikely to set foreign pulses racing. Next to this bold new feature China Daily splashed an “exclusive” interview with the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, under the headline “FM: China is doing all it can in foreign affairs”. Still, the makeover marks a departure for the vapid broadsheet. And China Daily is only the latest Chinese media organ to revamp itself in what President Hu Jintao calls an “increasingly fierce struggle in the domain of news and opinion”.

On a visit in 2008 to the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, Mr Hu lamented the “West’s strength and our weakness” in the global exchange of ideas. To stress the message that China intends to redress the balance, he presided in Beijing last October over China’s first “world media summit”. China’s party-controlled press shared the stage with global media giants such as Reuters, the BBC and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Change is coming thick and fast. Since last April a racy new English-language tabloid, Global Times, has given China Daily a run for its money. China’s state television network, CCTV, has a three-year plan to increase the number of foreign news bureaus, from 19 to 56. CCTV launched Arabic and Russian channels last year, building on existing English, French and Spanish services, with Portuguese to follow. The English channel, CCTV-9, is already widely available in the United States. Now Xinhua, the party’s wire agency, is moving into television, with short programmes screened outside embassies, in supermarkets and on 3G phones. In all, the government is reported to have committed 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion) to global expansion. Both CCTV and Xinhua aspire to 24-hour English-language news services.

If it sharpens the media’s reporting instincts, this is all to the good. At the time of the Asian tsunami in 2004, China had many more reporters in South-East Asia than did the American networks and the BBC. But Western television made all the running, and even Chinese broadcasters had to rely on it.

At home, competition is already encouraging higher standards. Since the 1990s the government has slashed subsidies to all but the clutch of media organisations that report directly to the party’s propaganda department. In a bid for readers and advertising revenues, other outlets now flirt with racier, more inquisitive reporting. Global Times, though controlled by the People’s Daily, is a remarkable innovation. The Chinese-language version has long been popular among hotheaded nationalists. But the English edition strays into realms once thought taboo.

On March 1st it put a scandal concerning an underage Chinese Olympic bronze-medallist on its front page, a story shunned by China Daily. Last year it was the only paper to report on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and their suppression in 1989. Recent articles include an investigation of internet censorship. A full-page spread reported on “happy endings” offered by male masseurs to women in Beijing massage parlours (headline: “A little of what you knead”). Yet even here, limits are implied. The clientele were not China’s demure womanhood, but frustrated, sexually voracious expatriates. More seriously, the press does sometimes expose and criticise official wrongdoing—one this week, for example, editorialised against the police’s use of torture. And, in a highly unusual campaign on March 1st, a dozen publications ran identical editorials calling for modest reform to the household-registration system that discriminates against rural Chinese. But here again there are limits. Within hours, the editorials had vanished from most of the papers’ websites.

As for China’s media offensive abroad, the limits will also become clear. At bottom, Mr Hu’s frustration is with his country’s deficit of soft power abroad. For all China’s might, as David Bandurski of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong puts it, the world seems impervious to its charm. To the country’s leaders, an epiphany came with the Tibetan upheaval in 2008 and subsequent protests abroad against parades of the Chinese Olympic torch. China’s soft-power aspirations, they concluded, were frustrated by an anti-China bias whipped up by a dominant Western press. The leaders also believe that a better reputation abroad would boost their popularity at home.

The medium and the massage
“Monopoly is the enemy of freedom,” railed a party journal, Qiushi, in August. This was no call for press freedoms at home, but rather indignation at China’s not having a place among the world’s supposed media monopolists. It underscores the fallacy in China’s media push: that controlling the communications channels abroad is enough to win friends and influence people.

At home, journalists in service to the Communist Party are taught mind-numbing courses in “the Marxist view of journalism”. The mission is to embed propaganda messages in supposedly objective reports. In the marketing of dictatorship, consent is manufactured and controversy snuffed out. Mr Hu promotes “harmony” as a singularly Chinese virtue by stifling the media. In Chinese journalism, an emphasis on party leaders’ activities trumps reporting unwelcome facts, which can be suppressed. An example is the large number of children killed by shoddy school buildings in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. Journalism is also venal, shaped by payments from officials and businessmen. It leads to a stilted public debate at home and, no matter how snazzy the packaging, will mean poor journalism abroad.

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