Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What's in a name? Or why the BBC should stop referring to the 'so-called' Islamic State

In my last blog, The medium is not the message, I took issue with an argument in Jared Cohen's piece for Foreign Affairs (November/December 2015):

'... governments should consider working with the news media to aggressively publicize arrests that result from covert infiltration of the Islamic State's online network'.

The medium is not the message. In counterinsurgency the message - its design, its credibility and its reception - depends on the language used and the way the language conveys the themes decided by the source. It is possible to argue that before we begin to understand how to defeat modern terrorism, we need to appreciate the importance of discourses, narratives and language in determining how modern terrorism works, how terrorist groups define themselves and are defined by others; and therefore attention to discourses and language  must be central in any strategy designed to confront terrorism. This is particularly crucial when religion and ideology are invoked as justifications for terrorist activity. Success or failure can often depend on the use of a particular word or phrase.      

My response to Cohen was far from ambiguous: 'The day that governments in liberal-democracies work with the news media', I argued, 'is the day the terrorists have won, for it is a clear violation of the objective and independent journalism that should govern how news media work. It is the media's job to scrutinise governments, to hold them to account for their actions, not to "work with them", aggressively or otherwise'.

BBC journalists are routinely violating the very principles they, in other circumstances, justifiably cherish and have defended certainly since the General Strike of 1926, if not since the very foundation of the organisation in 1922. 

A disturbing trend has crept into BBC journalism over the past several months, and that is a predilection for calling the terrorist group the 'so-called Islamic State'. The use of the qualifier 'so-called' is mistaken, counter-productive, and politically very questionable. 

Like it or loathe it, the Islamic State calls itself Islamic State; that's its name. It is proper to question whether this terrorist organisation represents Islam, and we should confer upon Muslim communities across the world the power to decide whether or not IS’s claim to represent their religion is right and justified. Similarly, it is correct to judge whether IS really is a 'state' at all. It certainly does not demonstrate any of the attributes that we normally associate with states, and IS is not recognised by any sovereign state or the United Nations, so its claim to the term is indeed questionable. But these are discussions that should and must occur without journalists announcing in news bulletins their own verdicts.   

The most crucial reason why BBC journalists should refrain from employing the pronoun 'so-called' in their stories about IS is that its use entails a value judgement; and BBC journalists are not in the business of value judgements. 

In June 2015, a cross-Party group of MPs, backed by the Prime Minister, accused the BBC of legitimising IS by using its name in its reporting. The BBC resisted any change: The Director-General, Tony Hall, said that the broadcaster must remain 'impartial'. But the BBC decided that a qualifier was legitimate, and a spokesman said 'We ... use additional descriptions to help make it clear we are referring to the group as they refer to themselves, such as "so-called" Islamic State.'   

According to Webster’s dictionary, the first definition of 'so called' is 'popularly known or called by this term'. But its second meaning is more relevant in this case, namely 'inaccurately or questionably designated as such' which may give the impression that the speaker has formed a judgement about the veracity of the words that follow.  

By using the pronoun 'so-called', the BBC tacitly accepts the government's agenda and can be accused of engaging in anti-IS propaganda on the government’s behalf. The term undermines the credibility of a world-class news organisation, when maintaining the credibility of the BBC is absolutely essential to counter the narratives of terrorist organisations, as well as authoritarian states. It challenges the very operational values of the BBC and thereby the principles of journalism in a democratic society. ‘So-called’ may suggest to its critics that they are right to question the BBC’s independence, while damaging efforts by journalists throughout the authoritarian world to expand the distance between the news media and government.

Yes, the organisation's claim to be an, or even the, Islamic State should be contested and defied at every opportunity. This challenge should form part of the counter-narrative that will form a credible assault against IS's commanding propaganda strength. But BBC news bulletins are not the appropriate location from which to launch this assault. If a pronoun must be used, the BBC may try using 'the group known as the Islamic State,' or 'self-proclaimed/self-styled Islamic State'. These are more reasonable qualifiers that draw attention to doubts about the organisation's claim, highlight very clearly from where the name comes from (the organisation itself), and still challenge its legitimacy to that name without undermining the BBC’s journalistic integrity.   

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The medium is not the message: Digital Counterinsurgency

The November-December 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs includes an article by Jared Cohen titled 'Digital Counterinsurgency: How to Marginalize the Islamic State Online'.

Too many essays that claim to provide a blueprint on how to confront IS online do so through a detailed examination of the technology and a renewed emphasis on policing the internet. Cohen's essay is no different. From 'suspending the specific accounts responsible for setting strategy and giving orders to the rest of its online army' to 'banning users who break the rules and distribute terrorist content', we are asked to consider a range of techniques that might lead to IS being marginalised in cyberspace and force the group to the so-called Dark Web.

The article is flawed in two important respects:

First, it claims that there is a direct correlation between the number of 'foreign recruits' (c.20,000, 'nearly 4,000 of whom hail from Western countries') and IS propaganda: 'Many of these recruits made initial contact with the Islamic State and its ideology via the Internet. Other followers, meanwhile, are inspired by the group's online propaganda to carry our terrorist attacks without traveling to the Middle East'. Cohen continues: 'Every day the group's message reaches millions of people, some of whom become proponents of the Islamic State or even fighters for its cause'. If this was a student essay, I would ask the author: Where is your evidence for such claims? Can you substantiate the idea that 'many' (a far too vague and meaningless word) IS fighters from abroad are seduced by propaganda? How many are the 'some' to which you refer out of the 'millions' the propaganda reaches?

Understanding how propaganda works and, perhaps most importantly in this case, its limitations is the key to analysing its impact; and any serious analyst of of propaganda would answer that it cannot change minds or alter behaviour, but rather latches on to, and exaggerates, existing or latent emotions, beliefs and ideas. There is more to understanding the IS terrorist than the seductive power of propaganda, and most helpful will be understanding the context in which the propaganda is both produced and received.

Second, the article raises, but fails to address in sufficient detail the ethical and legal consequences of its recommendations. Who decides what is a terrorist, and even an IS social media account? Who decides, and by what criteria, which messages are considered 'extremist', inflammatory or dangerous?  Cohen treads on even more dangerous ground when he suggests 'governments should consider working with the news media to aggressively publicize arrests that result from covert infiltration of the Islamic State's online network'. The day that governments in liberal-democracies work with the news media is the day the terrorists have won, for it is a clear violation of the objective and independent professionalism that should govern how news media work. It is the media's job to scrutinise governments, to hold them to account for their actions, not to 'work with them', aggressively or otherwise.

Finally, the article fails to discuss in any meaningful detail not only the message that may help to marginalise IS - on and offline - but also the political action that may help to isolate the terrorists and understand why young Muslims choose to join such terrorist organisations in the first place. Some of the issues we need to consider include:

(a) White middle class men explaining what Islam is and is not; what the Koran says and does not say; and what the Koran means. The condemnation of Islamic terrorism must begin in Islamic communities themselves. This means avoiding mass messaging in favour of community-based dialogue and discussion, and giving Muslim communities the tools to combat radicalisation themselves.

(b) Not listening to the Muslim voice. Governments must do more to engage with Muslim communities, and actually hear what they are saying. What inspires young Muslims to travel to Syria and join ISIS? Is it simply for the thrill? The promise of glory and status? A sense of brotherhood? To punish the west for their crimes against Islam? To escape deprivation at home? Or because they truly believe in an Islamic Caliphate?  Only when we truly understand why IS is able to recruit in such numbers - and there will be many explanations - can western governments begin to tackle the problem. We know some young Muslims are being radicalised: the important question is not how, but Why? This may mean governments having to rethink policy, at home and abroad, because states are judged by the credibility and legitimacy of their actions, not their words.

Focusing on policing social media and dreaming up ever more innovative methods of controlling the internet is one solution, but it is not necessarily the only nor perhaps the best solution. In combating the evil of IS terrorism, governments need to pay far more attention to their own propaganda message, how it is delivered, by whom and to whom; and actively engage in a more intimate way Muslim communities who may hold in their hand both an explanation for, and an answer to, the crisis we face.  



Sunday, 27 September 2015

Shortwave broadcasting and QSL cards.

Few people are fortunate to be able to turn a hobby into a career. When I started listening to shortwave radio in the early 1980s, I never knew that I would one day be writing books and articles about international broadcasting. I progressed from listening on my father's wonderful 1950s Bakelite with glowing green valves and a wonderful bass hum that grew louder as the set warmed up (this radio now has pride of place in my office) to a Russian Vega Selena 215.


By the end of the 1980s I upgraded again. This time, I wanted a digital set so I could key in the frequencies of stations that were printed in the wonderful World Radio and TV Handbook. My parents bought me a Saisho SW5000.



As I started to travel on fieldwork for my PhD, I bought a small portable shortwave receiver. I continued to listen when I went to Caversham Park where I used the wonderful BBC Written Archives Centre; to Kew when I spent time at the Public Records Office; to Taiwan; and then to Washington DC. I always enjoyed listening overseas in anticipation of all the new stations I would access.
  
During the Gulf War of 1991 I hooked up my Saisho to a tape recorder and recorded hours of broadcasts (from the Voice of America, Kol Israel, and the BBC World Service)  for Phil Taylor who was writing his book, War and the Media. I had seen my name in print before: I had articles published in Shortwave Magazine and in various newspapers, but nothing matched the thrill of seeing my name in Phil's book, thanking me for undertaking this work for him. 

I recently corresponded with David Jackson, former Director of the Voice of America. I told him of my excitement when, during PhD fieldwork in Washington DC in 1993, I took the VoA tour. Like the classic class nerd I threw my hand up at every opportunity to ask and answer questions. David made reference the VoA QSL cards, and this reminded me of the hours I spent listening through the crackle of faint transmissions at all hours of the night and writing reception reports for the stations. I sent these in the post, and weeks, sometimes months later, the station would acknowledge my report with a QSL card and other souvenirs (stickers, magazines, books). I found my collection for the late 1980s and though I would share my QSLs in this blog. 

QSL is international radio language for "Please verify". 

This part of my collection represents the closing of an era. With the rise of the internet and the ability to listen to radio stations from all over the world on a computer or tablet, the age of shortwave has largely passed. Yet there is still something romantic about turning a dial at 3am and listening eagerly through the crackle to hear which station one is listening to (oh no, not Radio Moscow again!). Those were the days ... The collection also a reminder of another era in international politics, with the Soviet Union represented by Radio Moscow World Service, sending me pictures and stamps of Lenin; with Radio Prague Czechoslovakia responding to an essay I wrote them about Marxism by sending me books about Czech foreign policy. While still at school in the  mid-1980s I wrote an article for Shortwave Magazine called 'What is the role of the shortwave radio in international politics?'  In 1994 I completed my PhD, supervised by Phil Taylor, entitled 'Nation Unto Nation: The BBC and VoA in International Politics, 1956-64'. This was subsequently published as Radio Diplomacy and Propaganda (Macmillan, 1996).   


Radio Austria International, June and July 1988 

Radio HCJB The Voice of the Andes, Ecuador, June and July 1988: "Thank you for your letter  to Salados Amigos"

Top: Radio Prague, Czechoslovakia, July 1987.
Bottom: Radio RSA, The Voice of South Africa: 'The Bokmakierie. Here the bokmakierie is feeding its young. A species easily identified by its familiar call and beautiful plumage'
Top: Radio RSA, The Voice of South Africa, July 1988 'Johannesburg - a dynamic city founded on gold, soars into the future'
Bottom: Radio Kuwait, July and August 1987 'Agriculture in Kuwait'
  
Radio Australia, August 1987. 'The Koala, a familiar symbol of Australia,is found in the south-east and north of the country.' 

Top: All India Radio External Services, October 1987. 'Gate Keeper to India, Sabha Ellora'
Bottom: The Voice of Vietnam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam), July 1988
The Voice of America, February 1987: Top: 'The White House on a wintry evening in Washington DC. US Presidents and their families have lived here since 1800.'
Bottom: 'The VOA newsroom in Washington DC where news from all over the world is compiled and prepared'

Top: Voice of America, March 1987: 'One of the new VoA studios in Washington DC where broadcasts in 42 languages originate'
Bottom: Radio Polonia, Poland, March 1989. 'The station you listened to is Warsaw' 

The Voice of Vietnam, Xmas 1988; Season's Greetings

Radio Prague, Xmas 1988: 'With best wishes for a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year'
Radio Moscow World Service,June 1989: 'Dear Mr Rawnsley. Thank you for writing to us and taking part in the listeners' forum dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the International Service of Radio Moscow. Please accept our small souvenir - a set of post cards and Soviet stamps. We hope you will like them. We are glad to hear more from our listeners, so if you have any suggestions, questions and requests, you are welcome.'


Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Unfortunately, only the envelope is in the collection. I wonder what was included?

Kol Israel, Israel Radio International: 'You have a friend at Kol Israel'.

Friday, 14 August 2015

International Communications in the Cuban Missile Crisis (2)

Both the Soviet Union and the US used radio to communicate directly with each other, complementing the more traditional diplomatic channels. To seek a resolution to the crisis, the Soviet leader, Nikolai Khrushchev, used Radio Moscow knowing that his words would be monitored and reported long before the official communiques reached the Oval Office, and in the circumstances time was certainly of the essence. Khrushchev's first letter to President Kennedy on 26 October 1962 had been subject to a long delay in its transmission to Washington from the US embassy in Moscow. This was a gamble the Soviet leaders were no longer prepared to take, hence radio was considered the fastest method of communicating with the American President. On 27 October the US issued a statement welcoming Khrushchev's communication to remove the missiles in Cuba in response for a promise that there would be no US invasion of the island. This statement ignored a second message, broadcast twice on Radio Moscow, demanding the US remove its missiles from Turkey in return for a climbdown in Cuba.

At 1405 GMT (0900 Washington time) on 28 October 1962, Radio Moscow announced that it would transmit an important government statement, the broadcast beginning even before its textual editing had been completed. No clearer warning could be issued to the BBC's monitors at Caversham Park that they should prepare to receive, transcribe and report what followed.

As in previous broadcasts, Khrushchev addressed Kennedy personally as 'esteemed Mr President', informing him that 'the Soviet government, in addition to orders previously issued for the cessation of further work on the [Cuban] building sites for the weapons,' had 'issued a new order; for the weapons which you describe as "offensive" to be dismantled, packed up and returned to the Soviet Union.'

The significance of this broadcast, and the importance attached to it by the Soviet leadership's insistence that it be monitored and reported, can be adduced by the fact that it was repeated four times in the home service and no less than thirteen times in the North American service, in addition to several repeats in Spanish for listeners in Cuba.

Kennedy decided to accept the terms of the message in the same way that he had received it - over the radio. James A. Nathan has described this as a 'considerable departure from diplomacy'. [1] But there was nothing diplomatic about this particular communication. It was not an act of negotiation or the basis for further discussion, but was rather a public announcement of intention which, by its very nature, lacked flexibility and the capacity for compromise.

Kennedy's welcome of Khrushchev's decision was duly reported by TASS and in Moscow Radio's home service on 28 October, though it was not published in Russian newspapers until 30 October, a delay designed to strengthen Khrushchev's image as a hero who had taken a firm stand to avert war. Radio Moscow told its listeners in North America that the Soviet government's decision to end the crisis should not be regarded as a sign of weakness. On the contrary, the country had 'displayed forbearance ... in an effort to keep world peace. It did a service to all of humanity with a courageous restraint and refusal to be provoked, for it saved the world from thermonuclear disaster. ... Only a country confident of its strength could take the stand the USSR has taken'. [2]

Kennedy said he felt 'like a new man. Do you realise,' he asked his friend, Dave Powers, 'that we had an airstrike [against Cuba] all arranged for Tuesday [just two days later]? Thank God it's all over'. [3]

References

[1]  Nathan, James A. (1988), 'Cold War Model' in Robert A. Divine (ed.) The Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Markus Wiener) p.342

[2]  BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Part I, 31 October 1962.

[3] Quoted in Beschloss, Michael R. (1991), Kennedy v. Khrushchev: The Crisis Years, 1960-1963 (London: Faber & Faber), pp.541-2

 

How Special is Special? The Anglo-American Alliance During the Cuban Missile Crisis

As I worked my way through the files at the Public Records Office that were most relevant to my PhD, the so-called Thirty Years Rule meant that the British government records for 1962 were opened in 1993 as I was completing my research. I decided to take a little time away from my topic to  examine the files for the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was interested in seeing the role, if any, that the UK played in the crisis, and how Anglo-American relations - what is too often referred to as The Special Relationship - played out. This was a landmark for me: Not only was the resulting article, 'How Special is Special? The Anglo-American Alliance During the Cuban Missile Crisis', my first published academic paper, but I was also the first author to publish on this subject using the declassified documents. The paper was published in Contemporary Record, 9 (3), 1995: 668-601.  I recall receiving the referee's report while I was undertaking archival research in Washington DC in the summer of 1993 and living at the wonderful International Student House at the Dupont Circle. I discovered I needed a copy of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's memoirs and so bought a copy at one of the many second hand bookshops that surround the Dupont Circle. It is a huge book, one of three volumes, and having already bought far too many books I knew I could not carry it back with me to the UK. I sold it back to the same bookshop within a few days of my buying it.

I thought of this paper again today in light of the restoration of US-Cuban ties.

'How Special is Special?' is still available via Taylor & Francis Online, but it is expensive or requires an institutional log-in. This is the abstract.    

The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 affords an excellent opportunity to scrutinise alliance relationships during the most critical phase of international history. The recently declassified documents at the Public Records Office suggest that although Britain's role in the crisis was limited to consultation with the United States and did not actively participate in the resolution of the crisis, the government was not prepared to passively support those American decisions with which it did not agree. In addition this case study allows scholars to derive a greater sense of the importance of a detached and specialised Foreign Office in a political system which places greater power in the hands of an elected and transient government with narrow interests.

International Communications in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Today, 14 August 2015, John Kerry became the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years. He reopened the American embassy, and watched the US flag rise in the presence of the same marines who lowered it in 1961.

Cuba played an important part in my life over twenty years ago. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a case-study in my PhD thesis on international radio broadcasting in the Cold War, and you can read the chapter in my first book, Radio Diplomacy and Propaganda (Macmillan, 1996). The chapter studied how international radio broadcasting, specifically Radio Moscow and the Voice of America, played an important role in not only projecting propaganda, but also in resolving the crisis. At the  core of what I called 'media diplomacy' was the ever wonderful BBC Monitoring Service, located at Caversham Park near Reading in the UK, which has helped to gather open intelligence from the world's broadcast media since before World War Two. Below are my abridged conclusions. I cringe a little now when I read them, but please remember I wrote this at some point between the age of 21 and 23.

In the context of the Cold War, the defusing of the Cuban missile crisis represented a step of progress in the conduct of international relations: it had been the first real crisis of nuclear proportions; it provided the pretext for further negotiations between the Superpowers that paved the way to an eventual, but short-lived, detente; and it facilitated their relationship in that the need for a direct line of communication between the White House and the Kremlin - the so-called 'Hot Line' - was recognised and accepted. More importantly for the purposes of this study, while Kennedy and Khrushchev conversed with each other through traditional channels, radio had been explicitly used as an integral part of the diplomatic procedure, marking watershed in global broadcasting on a series of levels. The Soviet Union was forced by circumstances to recognise that the value of radio was no longer rooted merely in propaganda, the importance of the monitoring service was acknowledged, and public opinion was accorded a position as a contributory factor in the formulation of political foreign policy. At the start of the crisis, the British Ambassador in Havana, Sir Herbert Marchant, had advocated the launch of a 'really serious propaganda exercise' by the US. 'I mean, really serious and probably expensive, but still cheaper than a war.' (1) Such an observation implies recognition that propaganda can often be a substitute for military conflict, as the missile crisis vividly illustrated.
                 Together the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis had confirmed the importance of harmonising government action with propaganda and broadcasting policy. It had not been easy; the gravity of the crisis had forced the USIA into supervising VoA broadcasts to a degree that had so far been avoided. The crisis also opened up deep wounds between the VoA and its parent agency, USIA. The Director of the VoA, Henry Loomis, told Ed Murrow [Director of USIA] that the station 'failed to sound convincing because of our monolithic tone. ... During the ... crisis,' he said, 'we were required to distort and concentrate our programme at the expense of credibility and relevance to our audience.' Loomis believed that by broadcasting Presidential and State Department announcements, the Voice suffered from a markedly dull output and at the same time revealed itself to be a propaganda station. [2]  However, given the scope and nature of the crisis, this comment is unjustified. At a time when the political risks were incredibly high, when the future of the whole world was at stake, audiences for foreign broadcasts (which inevitably increase at times of major crises) were more interested in government pronouncements of intentions rather than often wild speculation. As America's role in the Vietnam war continued to escalate, this dichotomy posed by VoA's dual purpose was exacerbated, and the relationship which the government enjoyed with its propaganda agencies was to prove crucial.

References:

1.  FO371/162347/AK1051/11, 22 October 1962 (Public Record Office, Kew Gardens)
2.  Sorenson, Thomas (1968), The Word War: The Story of American Propaganda (New York: Harper & Row), p. 238
 
              

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media: Contents and Abstracts


The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media

Edited by
Professor Gary D. Rawnsley and
Dr Ming-yeh Rawnsley

CONTENTS

List of tables

List of figures

List of contributors

Members of the Editorial Board

Editorial Note

Acknowledgements


Introduction
Gary D. Rawnsley & Ming-yeh T. Rawnsley


Part I: The Development of the Study and the Structure of Chinese Media


1. (Re)-Focusing on the Target: Reflections on a Trajectory of Studying the Chinese Media
Yuezhi Zhao


2. China, Soft Power and Imperialism
Colin Sparks


3. Evaluating Chinese Media Policy: Objectives and Contradictions
Rogier Creemers


Part II: Journalism, Press Freedom and Social Mobilisation


4. Western Missionaries and Origins of the Modern Chinese Press
Yuntao Zhang


5. Setting the Press Boundaries:  The Case of the Southern (Nanfang) Media Group
Chujie Chen


6. Chinese Investigative Journalism in the Twenty-First Century
Hugo de Burgh


7. From Control to Competition: A Comparative Study of the Party Press and Popular Press
Hsiao-wen Lee


8. Press Freedom in Hong Kong: Interactions between State, Media and Society
Francis L. F. Lee


9. Media and Social Mobilisation in Hong Kong
Joseph M. Chan and Francis L. F. Lee


10. Citizen Journalists as an Empowering Community for Change: A Case Study of a Taiwanese Online Platform ‘PeoPo’
Chen-ling Hung


Part III: The Internet, Public Sphere and Media Culture


11. Politics and Social Media in China
Lars Willnat, Lu Wei and Jason A. Martin


12. Online Chinese Nationalism and Its Nationalist Discourses
Yiben Ma


13. A Cyberconflict Analysis of Chinese Dissidents Focusing on Civil Society, Mass Incidents and Labour Resistance
Athina Karatzogianni and Andrew Robinson


14. Workers and Peasants as Historical Subjects: The Formation of Working Class Media Cultures in China
Wanning Sun


15. An Emerging Middle Class Public Sphere in China? Analysis of News Media Representation of ‘Self Tax Declaration’
Qian (Sarah) Gong


16. Expressing Myself, Connecting with You: Young Taiwanese Females’ Photographic Self-Portraiture on Wretch Album
Yin-han Wang


17. Against the Grain: The Battle for Public Service Broadcasting in Taiwan
Chun-wei Daniel Lin


18. Public Service Television in China
Ming-yeh T. Rawnsley and Chien-san Feng




Part IV: Market, Production and the Media Industries

19. The Changing Role of Copyright in China’s Emergent Media Economy
Lucy Montgomery and Xiang Ren


20. Gamers, State and Online Games
Anthony Y. H. Fung


21. The Geographical Clustering of Chinese Media Production
Michael Keane


22. The Politics and Poetics of Television Documentary in China
Qing Cao


23. Contemporary Chinese Historical TV Drama as a Cultural Genre: Production, Consumption and the State Power
George Dawei Guo


24. Live Television Production of Media Events in China: The Case of the Beijing Olympic Games
Limin Liang


25. Negotiated Discursive Struggles in Hyper-Marketised and Oligopolistic Media System: The Case of Hong Kong
Charles Chi-wai Cheung




Part V. Chinese Media and the World


26.  Internationalisation of China’s Television: History, Development and New Trends
Junhao Hong and Youling Liu


27. Decoding the Chinese Media in Flux: American Correspondents as an Interpretive Community
Yunya Song


28. Chinese International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy and Soft Power
Gary Rawnsley


Chinese Glossary: Selected Chinese Names and Terms

Chinese Dynasties at a Glance

Index



CHAPTER ABSTRACTS


1. (Re)-Focusing on the Target: Reflections on a Trajectory of Studying the Chinese Media
Yuezhi Zhao


In the context of China’s rapid transformation in a turbulent global system since the late 1970s, to study the Chinese media is to shoot at a target that appears easy to focus on at first sight, but is in actuality rather elusive. On the surface, the target appears static as there has not been any radical transformation in the basic structure of the Chinese media system after more than thirty years of reform. Upon closer examination, however, the target has both undergone dramatic mutations in its shape and shed much of its original colour. Moreover, in the context of a highly unstable and rapidly evolving global order, the target has not only repeatedly defied conventional expectations in terms of the direction of its movement, but also is realigning its geopolitical  relations with other objects and streams of flow in the global media universe. Which direction to look at? What does the target look like at a particular moment? What lenses to use and how to aim? What kind of shooting guns do we have in hand and are they adequate for the purpose? No less important, isn’t it the case that the shape and colour of the target, our ways of approaching it, even the very language we use to define and describe it, very much depends on who we are and where we stand as scholars? Finally, beyond the imperative of surviving the academic curse of publishing or perishing, what is this analysis for? This chapter re-examines the author’s own academic endeavour in the field. It is an exercise of intellectual self-reflectivity and it discusses both the substantive and methodological issues involved in studying the Chinese media.


2. China, Soft Power and Imperialism
Colin Sparks


This chapter is primarily concerned with developing an approach that facilitates the understanding of the international cultural impact consequent upon China’s rise. The author compares two major approaches — soft power vs. cultural imperialism — from the point of view of their utility in helping us understand current developments. It begins with a brief statement of the two positions and makes some comparisons between their claims. It then considers them from the point of view of their ability to illuminate a number of key problems raised by the role of culture in international relations. These approaches, both developed with the US experience very much in mind, are shown to be lacking in some important dimensions necessary to explain current developments. Neither on its own is sufficiently developed as to provide an adequate theoretical framework to study the contemporary situation. In response to these shortcomings, an attempt is made to use these insights to develop a theoretical framework that is adequate to solving the problems presented by the distinctive features of the Chinese case.


3. Evaluating Chinese Media Policy: Objectives and Contradictions
Rogier Creemers


In recent years, there have been great changes in the Chinese media environment which have been mainly driven by technological and commercial developments. Social media have flourished, the film sector has expanded and commercial television stations have grown ever more successful. However, in China’s particular political-legal environment, these developments pose challenges to government and policy making, as the media administration aims to reconcile political objectives, such as maintaining legitimacy, social objectives, such as youth protection, and economic objectives. Furthermore, the party’s supremacy in political and legal matters has created a situation where overarching constitutional notions, which can underpin the structure of governance, are absent. At the same time, it is clear that there is a strong institutional structure to govern the sphere of public communication which has its own underpinnings and dynamics. How then can we make sense of the content and structure of this Chinese media governance apparat? This chapter answers a double question. First, it will analyse the central philosophical underpinnings of the current Chinese communication order as well as their historical origins. Second, it will illustrate how the current governance structure — both in terms of institutional structuring and content of media rules — is set up in order to implement these objectives. Finally, it will briefly analyse the severe problems the government faces implementing media regulation in the rapidly shifting Chinese environment.


4. Western Missionaries and Origins of the Modern Chinese Press
Yuntao Zhang


China can lay claim to being the oldest print civilization in the world. However a modern culture of journalism and publishing was in fact a relatively late arrival, coinciding with the import of modern printing technology from the west. For over a thousand years, Chinese journalism was dominated by the official gazette called DiBao (Peking Gazette). This organ of the imperial state comprised edicts, news of government appointments and court affairs, and served a small privileged readership. It was not until 1815 that what could be considered the first modern periodical (though not strictly speaking a Chinese publication) was to appear in China. This was the work of two British missionaries, Robert Morrison and William Milne, and it marked the beginnings of a process, spanning the nineteenth century, in which a group of predominantly British and American Protestant missionaries pursued a strategy of evangelism centred on the development of journalism, publishing and printing enterprises in China. This chapter provides a short outline of this process and some reflections on its wider cultural consequences.


5. Setting the Press Boundaries:  The Case of the Southern (Nanfang) Media Group
Chujie Chen


This research is concerned with the dialectic relationship between political-economic constraints and journalistic agency that contribute to the transformation of journalism. We should ask what kind of factors gave rise to the outspokenness of the Nanfang subsidiary papers and how their journalists pushed the limits of the permissible in China. Though much attention has been paid to the Nanfang newspapers, relatively few consider Nanfang as a whole and the intra-organisational relations within the group. This chapter synthesises existing studies on journalistic practices at Nanfang and its maverick subsidiary papers in particular. Overall, this chapter attempts to examine (1) the political-economic settings where Nanfang is located; (2) the relationship between the parent newspaper Nanfang Daily and its maverick subsidiaries in terms of organisational culture, division of labour, and the flow of human resources; (3) the strategic rituals used by the press to cope with or even bypass the severe restrictions imposed by power holders; and (4) the implications of strategic rituals for media autonomy.


6. Chinese Investigative Journalism in the Twenty-First Century
Hugo de Burgh


Rather than trying to define investigative journalism by its motivations and heroics, this chapter defines investigative journalism in China according to its method of approach and by the techniques associated with it, techniques that are not necessarily peculiar to investigative journalism, but which are characteristic of them. Some investigative journalists reject the very category, claiming that all journalism is or ought to be investigative, in the sense that checking and digging are intrinsic to good journalism. In general, however, Chinese investigative journalists are expected to display specific characteristics. They should be revelatory (provide new information, i.e. qishi xing, and expose hidden things, that is, jiefa xing); accusatory of bad people/organisations (qianze xing), and moralistic (implying that journalists apply higher moral standards, i.e. shuojiao xing); and finally, willing to take risks (fengxian xing). This chapter explains these characteristics in detail and discusses the particular skills and techniques employed by journalists to achieve their aims.


7. From Control to Competition: A Comparative Study of the Party Press and Popular Press
Hsiao-wen Lee


This chapter looks at how the newspaper industry in China has changed from being a party and government-led propaganda tool to become a more commercially market-oriented product. This will be achieved by first looking at four key influencing factors: (1) circulation, (2) advertising revenue, (3) distribution and (4) organisation of press groups. Second, the chapter explores how different variables impact on the news media: political control, market competition and professional performance. Then finally through the analysis of four news events during the period between 2005 and 2007, the discussions identify the various ways news coverage has been influenced. This chapter will argue that the popular market-oriented newspapers not only try to touch the party line when doing their reports, but also surrender themselves to wider commercial considerations.


8. Press Freedom in Hong Kong: Interactions between State, Media and Society
Francis L. F. Lee


This chapter reviews the politics of press freedom in Hong Kong by focusing on the interaction between the state, the local media and civil society. Without dismissing the importance of structural constraints, the interactional perspective emphasises the capability of actors to influence outcomes — the quality and quantity of press freedom in the present case — through negotiating, contesting, and/or collaborating with each other. Each player in the state-media-society triad has its own basic concerns and goals. Given their respective aims and perspectives, the players develop strategies to interact with each other. At the same time, the players also need to respond to changing social and political contexts. In particular, major political events may lead to changing perceptions of reality, and the players may alter their strategies as a result. Consistent with recent research on political developments in Hong Kong, this chapter treats the 1 July protest in 2003, in which 500,000 people protested against the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government, as a critical event that had significant repercussions on the China-Hong Kong relationship. Before 2003, China was largely willing to grant an ‘exceptional’ degree of press freedom to the city’s media. It relied on an informal system of politics marked by self-censorship and inducement to contain the Hong Kong press. While these elements persisted after 2003, the state developed new strategies to control and co-opt the Hong Kong press as the government began to intervene more openly in Hong Kong society. Yet civil society has also become more active in monitoring press performance, so that by 2013, Hong Kong’s press is more polarised and more proactive in voicing its concerns.


9. Media and Social Mobilisation in Hong Kong
Joseph M. Chan and Francis L. F. Lee


This chapter provides a conceptual overview of the roles played by the mass media and new media platforms in the formation of social movements and specific instances of collective actions in Hong Kong. It first discusses the characteristics and development of contentious collective actions in contemporary Hong Kong in order to provide the broader background against which the roles of media communications can be understood. It then examines important issues in the relationship between media and social mobilisation, such as how the professional news media cover social protests.


10. Citizen Journalists as an Empowering Community for Change: A Case Study of a Taiwanese Online Platform ‘PeoPo’
Chen-ling Hung


In 2007, Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS) established the PeoPo Citizen Journalism Platform to encourage public participation in news production. As a friendly web2.0 platform, PeoPo was designed for citizens to report and share news stories online. In addition, training curricula and courses are provided to empower Taiwanese citizens and organisations so that they are capable of reporting on important environmental, socio-economic and cultural issues. PeoPo’s efforts attracted attention from the mainstream media and international news organisations. Philipe Harding of BBC World News has commented that PeoPo could be a model for citizen journalism and ‘one of the best strategies for extending public media service in the digital era’. Why can PeoPo be influential? How is the platform designed and operated? What are the impacts on participants from the viewpoint of empowerment? What implications does it have on our understanding of the media, online journalism and citizen participation? To answer these questions, this chapter applies the concepts of participatory communication and citizen journalism to examine the development and influences of PeoPo. The discussion includes a brief analysis of this platform and interviews with the platform manager and its citizen reporters. This study thus aims to analyse the practice and influences of PeoPo and how this model would advance our understanding of citizen journalism.


11. Politics and Social Media in China
Lars Willnat, Lu Wei and Jason A. Martin


This chapter takes stock of the current state of the internet in China by analysing what digital media are available, how they are used within China’s unique political and social environment, and what effects they might have on political engagement among ordinary Chinese. In doing so, the authors rely on as much empirical evidence as possible, even though they realise that this is a fairly new and unexplored topic among China’s scholars. The chapter begins with a description of internet access in China, followed by a more detailed look at the availability and use of social media and blogging. It then discusses the growing significance of online video in China’s public sphere and how this medium has become an important tool for undermining the government’s efforts at controlling social media. Finally, the chapter reviews the current literature on the potential link between social media and political engagement in China.


12. Online Chinese Nationalism and Its Nationalist Discourses
Yiben Ma


No matter how online Chinese nationalism is studied, whether seeing its outgrowth as a signal of an emerging civil society or as a form of public opinion shaping Chinese foreign policies, the phenomenon can hardly be understood without taking two perspectives into account. Firstly, while investigating the potentials of the internet to bring changes to various aspects of Chinese nationalism, equal attention should be paid to the historical, social and institutional context out of which online Chinese nationalism comes into shape. Secondly, any study related to nationalism concerns two indispensable parts, namely the state, with which the masses identify their loyalty; and the masses who translate their nationalist consciousness ‘into deeds of organised action’. Taking both facts into consideration, this chapter aims to first of all embed the concept of Chinese nationalism into a historical, social and institutional context and explain how the concept has evolved and transformed over time in both official and popular discourses. Then it sheds light on the ‘Chinese internet’ per se - the immediate soil where online Chinese nationalism grows. It inspects the peculiarities of the internet that configure the production, dissemination and discussion of online Chinese nationalism. Finally, it endeavours to set up interrelations between Chinese nationalism and the internet by examining the extent to which the internet brings changes to the expression and discussion of Chinese nationalism, and challenges the relations between official and popular players over nationalism issues.


13. A Cyberconflict Analysis of Chinese Dissidents Focusing on Civil Society, Mass Incidents and Labour Resistance
Athina Karatzogianni and Andrew Robinson


This chapter employs the cyberconflict perspective to offer an in-depth analysis of Chinese dissidents in the People’s Republic of China focusing particularly on the 2000s. A distinction is drawn between socio-political (or active) social movement uses of the internet — which focus on organisation, mobilisation and the networked form of the medium itself — and ethno-religious (or reactive) social movement uses, which subordinate the medium to vertical logics. These are often expressed in terms of ad hoc mobilisations and tit-for-tat defacements and cyberattacks adhering to closed and fixed identities, such as nationality, religion and ethnicity.


14. Workers and Peasants as Historical Subjects: The Formation of Working Class Media Cultures in China
Wanning Sun


Economic reforms, industrialisation, urbanisation and migration since the 1980s have given rise to what is now often described as the ‘new working class’ in China. But is there such a thing as a working class media culture, and if so, what shape and form does a working class media culture take? What are the political, social and economic contexts in which a working class media culture comes to exist? And finally, if there is such a thing as the working class media culture, then what is the relationship between class analysis and media studies in China, and indeed how should future research agendas be shaped by these concerns? This chapter addresses these questions.


15. An Emerging Middle Class Public Sphere in China? Analysis of News Media Representation of ‘Self Tax Declaration’
Qian (Sarah) Gong


This chapter draws on the concept of the public sphere to analyse the democratic potential of the news media in China. It emphasises that in addition to media autonomy, public deliberation based on plural social interests is another major dimension of media democracy. It analyses three news media that represent diverse social interests as well as the ‘journalism domain’ and ‘civic forum’ sectors of the public sphere. Through analysing their representation of a recent tax policy which aims to reduce income inequality, this chapter examines their autonomous civic deliberative function as well as their representative function of plural social interests, drawn from the revisited public sphere concept. It then critically discusses the potential of an emerging middle-class media public sphere in China, which falls short in its inclusion of a wider range of diverse and pluralistic social interests.


16. Expressing Myself, Connecting with You: Young Taiwanese Females’ Photographic Self-Portraiture on Wretch Album
Yin-han Wang


This chapter is part of a broader research project that examines Taiwanese girls’ identity through internet self-portraiture. The empirical data presented in this chapter is based on interviews with forty-two girls aged 13–20 who post self-portraits on Wretch, the most popular social networking site in Taiwan when this project commenced. Interviews were conducted between February and November 2010, mostly through online instant messaging but also a few conducted face-to-face in southern Taiwan. While self-portraiture can be explored from many perspectives, and is sometimes hastily dismissed as pure narcissism, this chapter takes an approach that seeks to understand online self-portraiture as a form of mediated interpersonal communication. The author brings together perspectives on personal photography, mobile communication, and personal relationships in offline and online contexts, and examines the role of self-portraiture — as a kind of visual self-disclosure — in girls’ online and offline interpersonal communication.


17. Against the Grain: The Battle for Public Service Broadcasting in Taiwan
Chun-wei Daniel Lin


This chapter engages with the debate around the expansion of Taiwanese Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in three main areas of inquiry and conceptualisation: (1) the role of PSB from the perspective of critical political economy, (2) the media in transitional societies with specific reference to Taiwan, and (3) the politics of media representation in the Taiwanese context. One strand in the classic arguments in favour of PSB is particularly addressed in this chapter, that is, the question of what role (if any) PSB can and should play in a televisual environment where consumer choice has been extended by the proliferation of cable and satellite channels. This chapter examines if channel plurality addresses market failures and what distinctive role PSB can play in a multi-channel age. While political and market forces threaten ‘the cultural citizenship’ which stands for citizens’ rights of ‘access to the information and social participation’, one important focus of this study is on the alliances and networks formed by civil society groups or by business interests, and the ways these formations attempt to intervene in the policy marking process by building public and media support and influencing legislators. The competing claims of various groups about the expansion of PSB are the central focus of this chapter.


18. Public Service Television in China
Ming-yeh T. Rawnsley and Chien-san Feng


This chapter traces the development of public service television in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It unravels the endeavours by Chinese elites to reconcile competing concerns from different sections of the society in implementing Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) within the Chinese context. The authors use the term public service television to include both Chinese public television channels and public interest television. A study on the development of public service television in the PRC reveals to a certain extent how China actually functions, that is, not necessarily as a single-minded and highly efficient unit but as a fragmented entity within which lie multiple, and often self-conflicting, interests and directions. Moreover, while an examination of China’s internal debate on public service television may reaffirm a universal value of PSB in modern public life, it also raises fundamental questions: does PSB only exist in democracies? Can a non-democratic country such as the PRC creates its own version of public service television and if so, how will the Chinese audiences benefit from it?


19. The Changing Role of Copyright in China’s Emergent Media Economy
Lucy Montgomery and Xiang Ren


This chapter introduces the changing role of copyright in China from a historical perspective. It begins by briefly tracing the history of copyright, from a censorship related system associated with the emergence of the printing press in imperial China, through modernisation during the Republican period, abolition under communism, and finally to the introduction of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) first copyright law in 1990 and the nation’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001.


20. Gamers, State and Online GamesAnthony Y. H. Fung


Freedom of the press and plurality of ideas have been enduring issues in the study of the media. Recently, attention has turned to the cultural industries, sometimes also known as creative industries. Broadcasting industries, music industries, film industries, animation, online game industries and other internet-platform run industries are examples of cultural industries. All these cultural industries in total have started to accumulate huge profits and achieved considerable growth. In view of the economic potential and market, and hence strong cultural influence, the state realises that its influence and control should be extended to these industries. This chapter explains how the Chinese authorities attempted to extend their manipulative logic over the emerging creative or cultural industries. Specifically, this chapter focuses on the government’s effort to (re)gain control over the online game industry, a rapidly growing and highly profitable new media platform in which the state has had no experience in terms of both content production and control.


21. The Geographical Clustering of Chinese Media Production
Michael Keane


This chapter examines the geography of audio-visual media production against the backdrop of China’s attempt to modernise and professionalise its media institutions. The author begins with a brief summary of key changes that have transpired before asking what these changes mean for researchers of China’s media. In contrast to many accounts of China’s media that begin with the political imperative, the chapter argues that commercial reforms of the media system are the key driver of change. The chapter then looks at examples of the realignment of regional media production in television, film and animation before focusing on how Beijing and Shanghai have competed to be media industry centres. 


22. The Politics and Poetics of Television Documentary in China
Qing Cao


The roots of documentary film run deep in China’s political history. However, the commercialisation drive of the media industry in the 1990s dislodged documentary film from state monopoly. Since then it has expanded substantially in function, subject matter, style and voice. The partial de-politicisation of the media industry has released the pent-up creative energy of media professionals. The current popularity of TV documentary, in contrast to the tired dogmatic propagandist films, signifies a structural change in political communication, in state-society relations and in the dynamics of socio-political transformation. Nonetheless, documentary films like all other forms of media are centrally controlled, and subject to the direct administrative supervision of the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT). In early 2013, in an attempt to tighten its control of proliferating documentaries, the SAPPRFT issued a new regulation centralising the management of topics by publishing an officially proved list every six months. These developments over time reveal both the dynamics of change in the Chinese media and the evolving relationships between political control, market forces and socio-economic transformations. This chapter documents and discusses this development through a chronological and thematic account of the history, structure and key issues of documentaries. Emphasis is given to intrinsic linkages between TV documentaries, their roles and functions and the political, historical and socio-economic context.


23. Contemporary Chinese Historical TV Drama as a Cultural Genre: Production, Consumption and the State Power
George Dawei Guo


This chapter examines the genre of the historical television drama from both the production and the consumption perspectives. The first section focuses on the Chinese television drama industry. The aim of this section is to look at how the Chinese television drama industry has been categorising and evaluating historical drama since the 1980s. The author divides the evolution of Chinese historical drama into three stages: 1984–1992, 1992–2004, and 2004–present. At each stage, the meaning of ‘the historical’ has been conditioned by certain literary, production, scheduling and regulatory circumstances. The discussion on the audience response is based on empirical audience research that the author conducted between 2007 and 2008. The author argues that to a large extent the three audience types — conservatives, culturalists and realists — reveal the respondents’ awareness and perception of state power in their cultural practices of watching the historical drama.


24. Live Television Production of Media Events in China: The Case of the Beijing Olympic Games
Limin Liang


The countdown to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, widely seen as China’s ‘coming out party’, started almost as soon as the city won the Olympic bid in 2001. An important component of this countdown was the media planning within China Central Television (CCTV), which is the state broadcaster and the Olympic TV rights holder in mainland China. The coverage would eventually amount to approximately 3,000 hours of programming across nine TV channels. Drawing from literature on media events and cultural production, this chapter engages with an understudied topic in media events scholarship: the relationship between plans and improvisation at different stages of live broadcasting of a mega event. Related to this, the chapter looks at the perception of ‘uncertainty’ in live television production as well as the strategies developed by media agents to cope with it. Regarding the component of ‘improvisation,’ in particular, the chapter revisits the concept of ‘what-a-story’ in news reporting and uses as a case study, sprinter Liu Xiang’s unexpected withdrawal from the race, as an example to illustrate the dialectic relationship between plan and improvisation.


25. Negotiated Discursive Struggles in Hyper-Marketised and Oligopolistic Media System: The Case of Hong Kong
Charles Chi-wai Cheung


This chapter investigates how the extreme marketisation and oligopolisation of the Hong Kong media constrain and enable representational struggles over youth across different media sectors and theorise the counter-hegemonic potentials, influences and limitations of the counter discursive forces involved. The case study has wider relevance to understanding media pluralism in capitalism. First, discursive struggles over Hong Kong youth are rather unequal. This context of an unequal power struggle is not peculiar to youth, but to different degrees is shared by other powerless groups in Hong Kong and by other capitalist societies. Many scholars have expressed serious concerns about how extreme media marketisation and oligopolisation would disadvantage powerless groups. The case of Hong Kong youth can shed light on ‘what would be’ for powerless groups in such a media environment. Second, the Hong Kong case suggests that representational struggles may be neither intense nor insignificant, but are situated between these two extremes at a location termed by the author ‘negotiated representational struggles’. Negotiated representational struggles should not be dismissed as trivial resistance, as they periodically and sporadically pose challenges to the mainstream with strong and lasting counter-hegemonic effects.


26.  Internationalisation of China’s Television: History, Development and New Trends
Junhao Hong and Youling Liu


China’s television represents a highly complicated media system. Not only is it one of the largest television systems in the world and one of the world’s most powerful political and ideological machines, but more importantly it is also a very unique social manifestation. This chapter examines Chinese TV’s internationalisation and the various approaches used by the Chinese government for the internationalisation of television over time. The authors divide the internationalisation of China’s television into four intertwined paths: (1) importing media and cultural products from other countries; (2) co-producing television products with foreign media; (3) exporting television dramas to other countries; and (4) the new trend of internationalisation of China’s television, which is an aggressive strategy of expanding China’s media outlets and their informational and cultural products abroad.


27. Decoding the Chinese Media in Flux: American Correspondents as an Interpretive Community
Yunya Song


American journalists constantly experience tight constraints in China. However, very few academic studies have focused on how American journalists seek the information from the Chinese media, and how they interpret the messages encoded by their Chinese counterparts. The interpretive response of American journalists is not a matter of individual perception alone. While foreign correspondents are typically viewed as loners who set their own agenda, nowhere had the US press corps consorted as much as they did in post-Mao China. This chapter aims to identify what information sources are preferred by the US press corps in their use of Chinese media, and paints a longitudinal portrait of the Chinese media landscape ‘recoded’ by these American journalists. With the view that information seeking does not exist only in the incipient location of information, but also its ensuing ‘relocation’, the concern of this study has been not only with the initial retrieval of facts, but also with shared decoding strategies, to wit, the ways in which American journalists as an interpretive community evaluate and decode local media messages throughout the wider constructive task. Their choice of decoding strategies is not the result of individual self-serving, idiosyncratic renderings of texts but a collective appropriation of texts by virtue of dominant cultural assumptions to suit group interests.


28. Chinese International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy and Soft Power
Gary Rawnsley


This chapter evaluates the relationship between China’s soft power strategy, its public diplomacy and its international broadcasting capacity. Understanding the connection between these three activities is important for public diplomacy, with international broadcasting as one of its instruments, represents the mobilisation and instrumentalisation of soft power resources: It helps us to understand how soft power resources are converted into behavioural outcomes. The principal themes of this chapter are: (1) the discrepancy between the messages disseminated by China’s international broadcasting stations and the perceptions of China by their audience; (2) the reactive strategy that has determined China’s international broadcasting must be a corrective to both western media reporting about China and the dominance of western media organisations in global news flows; and perhaps most importantly, (3) the question of trust and credibility that surfaces because China’s international broadcasting remains fully embedded within the state system.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media, edited with Ming-Yeh Rawnsley. You can find links to the book here Routledge and at Amazon.

To whet your appetite and maybe persuade you to purchase a copy I post here my introduction this collection of essays in which I map out the structure of the volume and explain its approach.

Shooting ‘at a target that appears easy to focus on at first sight,
but is actually rather elusive’
— Yuezhi Zhao (Chapter 1 this volume) describing her experience of studying the Chinese media.

In the final stages of preparing this manuscript, the publishing team at Routledge asked us to choose the image we would like to use as a cover for the book. We considered a dozen possibilities, most of which depicted satellite dishes, flickering television screens, the new CCTV building in Beijing or the giant screens in Hong Kong’s Time Square — all rather pedestrian and uninspiring choices, we thought. However, we did find one photograph that spoke to both the vision and shape of the book you are now holding in your hand, and both editors immediately concurred that this should be the front cover. Take a look at it.



We see two young people — they could be Chinese — sitting in what appears to be an underground train … where? Hong Kong? Singapore? Shanghai? Taipei? London, perhaps? The girl is absorbed in her mobile telephone, the boy sitting beside her is focused on his tablet. They may be reading the news, updating their Facebook status, downloading music, finding a restaurant for dinner, chatting on weibo or playing games. For the editors, this image captured instantly the transforming landscape of Chinese media and communications: A 24/7 information environment defined by the convergence of platforms, multiple methods of vertical and horizontal communication, and the overwhelming sense that one can never be out of contact with friends or out of touch with the world. Technology has shattered the boundaries between personal and mass communications, private and public space, news and entertainment, culture and information, producer and consumer. It has destroyed the temporal and spatial constraints that in the past defined the structure and meaning of our day. Our lives — our friends, our diaries, our memories in photographs, our means of amusement and distraction — are now available in one handy package and accompany us everywhere. Where once we could only ‘download,’ we are all now encouraged to ‘upload’; just as soon as we got used to talking about ‘blogs’, along come ‘tweets’; Youtube users are now able to integrate their films with their Facebook accounts; we are coming to terms with the fact that clouds are no longer just those white fluffy things that float above us in the sky; and we are learning a brand new jargon of 4G, ‘apps’ and ‘android technology’.

Having surrendered to this new landscape, the editors — one obsessive Tweeter and one hardened player of Candy Crush — realised that the traditional approach to collecting and organising essays on the media had been rendered redundant. We could not include separate sections for print, television and film, for the convergence of platforms has made such distinctions obsolete. We refused to concede to fashion and label one section ‘New Media’: When do new media stop being new? For the generation who grew to adolescence after the 1990s, there is nothing new about the internet and social media. ‘New media’ is a tired classification used among the generations, including the editors, who can recall the dark times before the internet and email. Moreover, studies of journalism, culture, information and entertainment can no longer treat the ‘new media’ as separate categories, a sideshow, when journalists now blog, tweet and broadcast through the internet (how can media studies departments still justify delivering separate journalism and new media degrees?); and when new networks are choosing to upload major drama series made exclusively for the internet, turning their backs on more conventional methods of broadcasting (of course we’re thinking here of Netflix and the massive global hit drama series, House of Cards).

Neither could we group the chapters according to geographical focus, for space and time have far less meaning now than they did a generation ago. The rapid development of new communications technologies and their almost immediate adoption by users (as recently as 2013 a Chinese student said to one of the editors, ‘You still use Whatsapp? That is so old!’) shapes and is shaped by equally transformative processes in politics, economics and culture. Globalisation and communication can no longer be analysed as distinct creatures; and this dense interconnected and relational environment generates its own logic and new challenges — for users, producers and governments — that were unthinkable only a decade before this book appeared.

Globalisation and the new communications landscape also help us to understand the necessity of analysing multiple definitions of ‘China’ and ‘Chinese’. In this book we recognise China as a distinct nation-state that is officially called the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Our use of the term ‘Chinese’ in the title of the book refers to a culture and civilisation that is not tied to any particular territorial or political unit. It broadens the focus, allows for a more inclusive approach and permits our fellow contributors to discuss not only the PRC, but also Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as the regional and global flows of communications and cultures. Thus we are concerned with three societies which adopt very different perspectives on what the media can and should do, and how they can and should operate. Rogier Creemers in Chapter 3 notes that this debate is particularly pronounced in the PRC where the policy environment and the governance of the media are designed to help the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintain its own position, namely ‘monopolising the public debate within the Chinese territory. This extends to the production of documentaries and historical dramas (Cao and Guo in this volume) in which continued government supervision has provoked the cultural industries into adopting a cautious approach to creating programmes. Hong Kong’s media are facing a set of unique challenges that reflect the politically-guarded nature of news journalism (encouraging a growing culture of self-censorship among reporters) framed by the territory’s peculiar position within the PRC’s orbit. Yet Taiwan too, often labelled the ‘first Chinese democracy’ (Chao and Myers 1998), is confronting its own difficulties as the media there continue to negotiate and re-negotiate their roles and responsibilities in a highly polarised democratic society. All three Chinese societies are coming to terms with the demands of market forces and an under-researched claim that audiences thirst for ever more sensationalist news, gossip and scandal. The similarities and differences experienced by the media and their consumers in the PRC, Hong Kong and Taiwan — and their interactions with each other and the rest of the region and the world — validate Daya Thussu’s observation: The ‘global media landscape’, he noted, is now ‘multicultural, multilingual, and multinational. Digital communication technologies in broadcasting and broadband have given viewers in many countries the ability to access simultaneously a vast array of local, national, regional and international’ media products (Thussu 2014: 8).

Emerging from this terrain of cross-national flows of communication, entertainment and news that breaches the personal and the public and is oblivious to considerations of time and space, is a complex, non-linear evolution of media processes, industries and agencies that erode further the increasingly fragile partitions between society, culture, economics and politics. These are issues discussed in Part I of this volume in which Yuezhi Zhao, Colin Sparks and Rogier Creemers reflect on the ‘state of the field’ from national and international perspectives. They identify the principal themes, questions and concerns that drive the subsequent chapters and engage with Chinese media on multiple disciplinary and geographical levels. The discussions in Part I embed the volume in a discourse of transformation — of the location and exercise of global power, in the nature of capitalism, and in Chinese and global media spaces. At the forefront in Part I, and in Part II  which is concerned with varying understandings of, and practices in journalism, are questions about media economy and shifting ideological priorities; the relationship between state, media and society; accountability, social mobilisation and empowerment; and the laws and regulatory frameworks and processes that govern media architectures and practices. In a novel approach to communications Anthony Y.H. Fung’s chapter on online gaming reveals the challenges facing the Chinese government in constructing appropriate frameworks to regulate a completely new landscape. The levels of popular participation and interactivity involved in gaming have provoked government authorities, finding themselves with little jurisdiction in the game environment,  to reconsider their relationship with the cultural industries; while at the same time opening new opportunities for online participants to take control and shape their own virtual worlds. This represents a unique and unprecedented form of negotiation between government and civil society in China.

Meanwhile, Joseph M. Chan and Francis L.F. Lee remind us of the way the media — and especially new media technologies — have played an essential role in the rise of social movements in Hong Kong. This is of course not limited to Hong Kong: in It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere (2013), Paul Mason reflected on the global wave of protest and revolution. The book includes the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the ‘Occupy movement’, and riots in Athens and London, and documents how social media have both encouraged and facilitated popular mobilisation throughout the world. Mason quotes one activist who explained her use of the social media during meetings and captured succinctly their democratic benefits: ‘We use Twitter to expand the room’ (Mason 2013: 45).

Since the landmark protests of 1 July 2003 when the conversation about Hong Kong’s future expanded to the 500,000 participants who marched to force the government to postpone a controversial national security bill, we have observed frequent protest activity there, including the annual vigil in memory of the victims of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. We have witnessed a similar trend in Taiwan where, following the occupation (assisted by the mobilisation power of social media) of the legislature by the so-called Sunflower Movement in the Spring of 2014, the number of demonstrations involving people from all walks of life and political persuasions, concerned about an expanding range of issues, have proliferated (e.g. Cole 2014).

The themes of mobilisation and empowerment are explored further by the contributors in Part III who explore the formation and expression of particular political, social and economic identities. The internet, social media and the adoption of public service broadcasting (PSB) models have modified both the structure of, and popular participation in, the public sphere. But there are limits: In Taiwan, as Chun-wei Daniel Lin notes in this volume, the (re)constitution of the public sphere has revolved around PSB. Although taking reference from the experience of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), debates about PSB in Taiwan have revealed less a commitment to its ideals than a contest between competing elites, with the public largely excluded from debates. This connects to Rawnsley and Feng’s chapter on the development of PSB in China and Cheung’s discussion on the lack of PSB in Hong Kong. While Cheung points out that ‘without a strong public media tradition, the Hong Kong media are hyper-marketised’, Rawnsley and Feng concur with Raymond Williams (1976: 130): ‘In one way the basic choice is between control and freedom, but in actual terms it is more often a choice between a measure of control and a measure of freedom, and the substantial argument is about how these can be combined’.

In Part III our contributors evaluate how the boundaries between the personal and private have adjusted to new communications technologies, and one example is the curious development of the ‘selfie’ among young Taiwanese females (Wang’s chapter). It is good to remind ourselves that prior to the word ‘selfie’ entering the Oxford English Dictionary, and long before no celebrity, prime minister or president could consider themselves either authentic or popular (populist?) until they had tweeted a photograph of themselves taken on their own mobile phone, young people throughout Greater China were documenting their everyday lives through digital self-portraiture. Is this another example of the global flow of culture from east to west, confounding the advocates of the old-fashioned ‘cultural imperialism’ thesis? And how does this global flow connect with frameworks that approach the impact of online nationalism and the way Chinese views themselves and are viewed by global audiences (Ma in this volume), and China’s growing commitment to exercising ‘soft power’ among its neighbours and the world (Sparks and Gary Rawnsley in this volume)? Selfies, as in the other examples identified by the essays in Part III, confirm that it is no longer possible to mark a clear distinction between producer and consumer, an issue that is again addressed in Parts II and III when the phenomenon of citizen journalism is considered as a supplement to (rather than replacement of) mainstream professional news reporting. This expansion of citizen journalism, as well as the growth in popular participation and intervention in news processes, is of course a product of evolving communications technologies, but is also partly explained by an apparent decline across the Chinese world in the quality of mainstream journalism via the pressures of marketisation and commercialism. This is certainly the case in Taiwan where, as Chen-ling Hung notes in this volume, ‘citizen journalism has emerged at a time of widespread distrust of the sensational and commercial media’. The development of the ‘PeoPo’ platform in Taiwan has occurred alongside the evolution of PSB, and it is not a coincidence that PeoPo was created by Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS). This symbiosis has encouraged a new form of democratic participation in Taiwan’s media, but given the small audience enjoyed by PTS, is it making any real difference? Or are the converted merely preaching to the choir?
      
The theme of marketisation runs through Part IV in which our contributors use a range of examples — including China’s evolving copyright culture, online gaming (a very recent and welcome addition to media studies), the ‘clustering’ of Chinese media production, and specific case-studies of genres and events — to consider the interactions of Chinese cultural and media industries, free markets and issues of global governance. In the essay by Charles Chi-wai Cheung we learn how market forces help define the powerful and the powerless in Hong Kong. Using representations of youth as the focal point for his discussion, Cheung not only helps us to understand media representations of young people and their issues in Hong Kong, but also how youth groups and groups acting on their behalf engage in a form of resistance to disrupt mainstream representations. So the chapter also brings to our attention questions of visibility and the way media representation can decide who is deemed important, legitimate, and authoritative. This connects with the discussions by Athina Karatzogianni and Andrew Robinson (on dissidents in China), Wanning Sun (on the working classes) and Sarah Qian Gong (on the salaried and lower middle classes).  

We move beyond the region in Part V to analyse the global dimension of Chinese media. Our contributors discuss the way that China, broadly defined, is seen through foreign eyes and how the media help to project the particularly favourable image identified by the government in Beijing as a way of changing the global conversation about China. So Yunya Song evaluates how American journalists have ‘decoded’ China and Chinese media reports to narrate the incredible changes that have taken place in the country since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s. This then feeds into Gary Rawnsley’s chapter on China’s public diplomacy and ‘soft power’ in which he argues that China’s strategy of global engagement through its growing international presence has been determined less by clear foreign policy or diplomatic objectives, and more to correct what Beijing considers a distorted and inaccurate picture of China in foreign media. The interconnected nature of the global media space, highlighted by Junhao Hong and Youling Liu who discuss the interactions of the Chinese media industries with their foreign counterparts, has given rise to a most curious situation: the world is watching China watching the world watching China. Such is the complexity of the modern technologically-driven international space, but it also demonstrates the capacity of the media to hold a mirror to themselves and reflect back to their own domestic audiences a view that may be a little more unpalatable than desired. In 2008, of course, the world was watching China live when Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. This exercise in soft power, discussed by Limin Liang in Chapter 24 as a ‘media event’, has been described as both China’s ‘coming out party’ (Leibold 2010) and a ‘campaign of mass distraction’ (Brady 2009), demonstrating that in discussing ‘soft power’ we have to remember that power lies not with the source of the message, but with the audience; for, as Song reminds us in Chapter 27, the audience can decide whether and how to receive, interpret and act upon particular messages. This is also addressed on a local level by George Dawei Guo who calls for the returns of ‘audience’ to studies of Chinese television drama. How viewers receive the official representation of Chinese history — in fiction or in documentaries (Cao in this volume) will determine whether or not the government’s objective to create a new nationalist discourse (discussed by Yiben Ma in Chapter 12) will be successful. History has long proved a successful theme in the national propaganda of any country. China has a particularly long and complex historical narrative from which to draw its communications capacity (Rawnsley & Rawnsley 2010); and both Hong Kong and Taiwan are now constructing their own historical narratives that may define the way they see themselves and how they are seen by the world.

We hope this book confirms what the authors have long known: that studying the Chinese media — in the PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong — is a complex, exciting and challenging endeavour, but one which pays dividends in understanding how the media landscape is both an agent and an object of transformations taking place there. All three societies are engaged in intricate and sometimes difficult processes of change that affect their politics, culture, society and relationships with the world beyond their borders. Our contributors have adopted unique approaches and case-studies that we hope will challenge the conventional methods of analysing not only the Chinese media, but the media in a more global and comparative perspective. We expect that the discussions here will raise more questions and issues; and we know full well that, because of the speed at which these societies are changing and communications technologies are developing the specific data presented will soon be out of date, though the frameworks, perspectives and insights offered here will remain relevant. At that point, we hope that a second volume may address the new Chinese media landscape now evolving before our eyes.