state control of media

All media in China have the designated function of supporting, promoting and serving the Party and the government as their ‘mouthpiece’ and vehicle for propaganda. However, despite the Party’s insistent and unbending retention of this principle, in the post-Mao era it has been at times openly questioned by media professionals and academics and gradually subverted by a depoliticization of some areas of media production on the one hand, and by the commercialization of media on the other.
Until the late 1990s all media organizations had to be state owned, run and controlled. However, the opening up of the media to commercial market forces from the early 1980s onwards has put media practitioners in a difficult position, sandwiched between government or Party control and the obligations and restrictions that this entails on the one hand, and commercial pressures for more popular, lively, varied and relevant media products on the other. These often opposing pressures have seen Chinese media production develop characteristics of its own that seek to satisfy both sets of demands.
So, for example, the newspaper industry has seen the emergence of hundreds of new evening newspapers and weekend editions since the beginning of the 1990s (see newspapers; Nanfang Weekend; Yangcheng Evening News). Radio stations have been forced to find more competitive styles of presentation (see radio (stations and content); Pearl River Econ omic Radio), and the television industry has come to split its production into political and non-political realms. The former, most notably news, remains firmly under Party control, while the latter—for instance the production of television dramas or game shows—has even been opened up to private companies.
With economic reform in the 1980s came a more relaxed attitude to the media than had been seen under Mao. It was also a period of flourishing intellectual debate and optimism. Several very senior journalists and media executives, as well as academics, for the first time openly questioned the sacred link between Party and media and called for greater freedom of the press. These were themes revisited by students and others in the demonstrations of 1989. However, following the events of June that year, a shaken and nervous Communist Party reverted to more conservative understandings of media production. The reformist energies from this time on were channelled more into commercialization than liberation.
Among media professionals, in industry journals, in speeches and at conferences, the Party-media link has once again been tentatively challenged at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. However, whatever the official stance, of equal or greater significance are the concrete changes that are happening in media practice. Slowly, Chinese media continue to transform themselves, to respond to market demands, to explore new avenues of production and to push the limits of Party control. This is made possible by, on the one hand, the system of self-censorship that implements Party control, and, on the other, by the fact that the individuals in key positions—such as senior editors and managers—are in fact those responsible to both the Party and the market. Furthermore, the presupposition upon which the mouthpiece principle is formulated—that the only source of information available is the Party—has become increasingly anachronistic as telecommunications, the Internet, foreign travel and foreign travellers open up the Chinese population to news from other sources.
Keane, Michael (2001). ‘Television Regulation: Creative Compliance, and the Myth of Civil Society in China’. Media, Culture and Society 23: 791–806.
Latham, K. (2000). ‘Nothing but the Truth: News Media, Power and Hegemony in South China’. China Quarterly 163:633–54.
Shoenhals, Michael (1993). ‘Media Censorship in the People’s Republic of China’. In S.Whitfield (ed.), After the Event: Human Rights and Their Future in China. London: Wellsweep.
Weber, Ian (2002). ‘Reconfiguring Chinese Propaganda and Control Modalities: A Case Study of Shanghai’s Television System’. Journal of Contemporary China 11.30 (February): 53–75.
Zhao, Y. (1998). Media, Market, and Democracy in China: Between the Party Line and the Bottom Line. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
KEVIN LATHAM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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