Ying Chan: competition over news intensifies in China

The International Press Institute, the world’s oldest global press freedom organisation, has published a report about the future of journalism and the implications on press freedom.

Brave News Worlds features the contributions of 42 editors, reporters, bloggers, consultants and media academics from round the globe and looks at how the media landscape is likely to change over the next decade. One of those contributors is Professor Ying Chan, Director of the JMSC.

The report was produced in collaboration with the Poynter Institute, a leading journalism centre based in Florida, USA. The report’s editor, Bill Mitchell, is head of the Poynter Institute’s Entrepreneurial Journalism and International Programmes.

“What’s emerging is a much sharper focus on how news can survive and even thrive going forward,” said Mitchell. “The report provides a special emphasis on the relationship between journalism and civic life, with specific, useful examples of who’s doing what around the world to sustain the critical linkage between the two.”

The report looks at different aspects of the press: the evolution of news; the role of journalists; the state of law, regulation and media freedom; the power of the people; emerging forms of journalism; traditional concepts re-framed and ownership. It also contains a series of ‘reports from the road’ which look at the state of journalism in countries round the globe.

Professor Ying Chan has contributed a paper to this series entitled ‘Competition Over News Intensifies in China, as Internet Offers Alternative Coverage’ (p. 112-115).

Chan wrote that while Western media is bemoaning the fact it’s shrinking, the media in China is growing thanks to a healthy economy, technological opportunities and state investment. When faced with restrictions imposed by the Communist state, many media organisations and individuals use the internet to circumvent or resist such censorship.

“Caught in the intricate media landscape, Chinese journalists, managers, producers and frontline reporters are working under intense pressure to perform,” wrote Chan in her essay. “Yet they enjoy little institutional support or clear career paths. Even CEOs at state-directed market enterprises serve at the pleasure of the Communist Party.”

“In the newsrooms, editors are torn between conflicting demands from two new masters, the party censors and news consumers who increasingly thirst for the truth.”

Chan looked at the ways in which China’s media has become both more open over the last ten years, but also how state control has become stronger and more sophisticated in order to try to deal with this openness. One of the ways in which the media in China has become more open is the proliferation of commercial internet companies which have emerged as an alternative to state controlled news sources, Chan wrote. In order to get around a ban by the state from reporting current events, these companies aggregate news from other sources that they are allowed to report. They also use formats such as discussions and debates which are not considered to be direct reportage.

In her paper, Chan stated that technology is driving China’s media growth. By June 2010, China was the largest online community anywhere in the world, with 420 million internet users. “While the Chinese Internet is one of the most controlled, it is also one of the most active community of writers, bloggers and citizen advocates,” wrote Chan. “The internet has offered journalists a venue to post articles when they are censored by the printed media.”

As more and more people use micro blogging and social media sites such as Twitter to get round the Great Fire Wall for the transfer of information and news quickly and freely, Chinese officials block the sites.

“For now, the future for Chinese journalists remains both promising and perilous,” wrote Chan in conclusion. “The Chinese Communist Party has made clear that it will not relinquish control of the news media. But both commercialisation and the empowering forces of technology demand greater openness. Somehow, the government will have to resolve the contradictions inherent in its grand strategy of gaining credibility worldwide while suppressing dissent and critical thinking at home.”

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