Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Power to China’s press, as long as party’s in charge [The Age]

China has not made it a secret that it understands domination of the press controls the communication climate it operates in, citing often they intend to build a media aircraft carrier (AsiaOne, 2009) to beat American dominance of global mindshare. Soft power is the name of the Chinese game in the 21st century, and this report attests to that.

“The circulation of our daily newspapers ranks top of the world, but we don’t yet have newspapers or magazines which can exercise sufficient power on the world stage. Our plan is to use the next 10 years to build China from a big publishing power into strong power.” Li Dongdong, vice-minister of the General Administration of Press & Publication

Conversely, Professor Miao Di responds – “I am a scholar and have no inside information… but ‘going out’ sounds ridiculous to me.” She alludes to this move as China wanting a ‘double-gendered chicken’.

– – –

Power to China’s press, as long as party’s in charge
John Garnaut, Beijing
Source – The Age, published June 18, 2011

Li DongDong. Photo – The Age

LI DONGDONG ultimately controls 2000 different newspapers, 10,000 magazines and 300,000 book titles, and she can access a seemingly limitless taxpayer-funded budget. But she’s far from satisfied.

“We are big in number but small in influence,” says Ms Li, vice-minister of the General Administration of Press & Publication, at her Beijing headquarters. “The circulation of our daily newspapers ranks top of the world, but we don’t yet have newspapers or magazines which can exercise sufficient power on the world stage. Our plan is to use the next 10 years to build China from a big publishing power into strong power.”

Ms Li’s immediate mission is to push Chinese print media companies to “go out” into the global market and generate soft power. Her ambition is backed by a $45 billion yuan ($A6.6 billion) government pledge for Chinese media companies abroad (including TV and radio), while her colleagues have talked about raising more revenue by restructuring media companies and listing them on public stock exchanges.

Last week she toured Australia, including Fairfax Media’s Sydney headquarters, to seek “communication and co-operation”. “We’re trying to find out what is the best model for going out and localising.”

But Ms Li’s multibillion-dollar international mission – at a time when Western global print media companies are facing financial turmoil – has its sceptics at home.

“I am a scholar and have no inside information,” said Professor Miao Di, of the Chinese University of Communications. “But ‘going out’ sounds ridiculous to me.”

The party’s demand for media companies to project soft power is constantly in conflict with its more immediate and overriding imperative: to protect and glorify the Chinese Communist Party at home. The contradictions are personified in Ms Li’s ultimate boss, Li Changchun, the Politburo Standing Committee member responsible for propaganda, who kicked off the global media strategy in 2008. “Whichever nation’s communication capacity is strongest, has the most power to influence the world,” he said at the time.

But within China’s media industry, Mr Li is better known for controlling news capacity than creating it. This week, he ordered China’s internet news portals and leading party publications to prominently display his personal instructions about what Chinese news coverage should look like in the fortnight leading up to the party’s 90th birthday on July 1.

“We must carry out education in love of the party, love of the nation and love of socialism extensively throughout society,” said Mr Li, in a speech that Chinese editors recognised as a warning they were about to enter a period of particularly heavy censorship.

Whatever the merits of loving the party, the motherland and the People’s Revolution, the message is not one Chinese readers are choosing to consume when they have a choice.

In major metropolitan centres there are a dozen commercially focused newspapers (such as the Southern Weekend) and magazines (such as Caijing and Caixin) which regularly offer credible, balanced news and investigative journalism, while dozens of others offer entertainment. Beyond print, hundreds of millions of Chinese readers are gathering their information from internet news portals, blogs or social networking sites.

While all of these reader-focused publications and internet platforms are required to censor or play down reports that might embarrass the party, they are all driven by the demands of readers. They are rapidly building market share while the People’s Daily, Xinhua, China Daily and CCTV are surviving only on massive government largesse.

And yet these central propaganda outlets are first in line to receive the central government’s “going out” funding.

Professor Miao says the government wants a double-gendered chicken: one that can crow its line, like a rooster, while laying golden eggs for the market. But, he says, whenever the party is forced to choose between a rooster and a hen, it chooses the rooster every time.

“Xinhua TV’s global headquarters in Hong Kong may cost dozens of billions of yuan and yet not one fen [penny] will go to Caixin or Southern Weekend,” says Professor Miao, whose wife, Hu Shuli, is the chief editor at Caixin.

Ms Li, meanwhile, says China has entered the final stage of its economic development and it is time to emphasise the social and cultural side.

She is responsible for licensing (and sometimes de-licensing) 1939 newspapers and 9884 magazines. Such choice was unthinkable in the 1980s, when her father, Li Zhuang, was editor-in-chief at the People’s Daily.

The Saturday Age asked Ms Li which newspaper she liked to read. “Frankly, because I am so busy, I can’t afford much time for print newspapers,” she said. ”But the People’s Daily is the party’s newspaper and I will certainly read it.”


Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Communications, Domestic Growth, Education, Influence, International Relations, Media, Nationalism, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Social, Soft Power, Strategy, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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