A Media in Asia Series – The Paradox that is China

This six part series aspires to illustrate one unique feature of country specific media each week. This week, China and its city newspapers (dushi bao), take center stage. Without a doubt, the sheer size of China makes it an influence unto itself, and, unruffled by western fads, China establishes its own trends. The authorities often present a rather schizophrenic approach to its policy making, a result of the push and pull game it often plays with market logic. While the focus at present seems to be more about social media than anything else, the rise of city newspapers spells one of the few most significant phenomenon to influence Chinese media in recent decades. It is for this reason that I think the examination of the city newspapers would provide an interesting reflection of the overall media landscape in China. City newspapers are the commercial publication wing of Party organ news publications that distinguish themselves from the morning dailies (zhao bao), by the publishing content that is free from propaganda with a focus on human interest stories. While the evening paper (wan bao) also prints soft news features, city newspapers are unabashedly aggressive and sensational in their news stories. Why the need for three types of news publications though? Well, everyone knew the content of the morning papers were heavily controlled by their respective party organs and served as more of party propaganda tools, which is probably why the morning newspapers, were hugely unpopular. However, when the Party press were unable to sustain independently itself financially, it was thrust into an intensely paradoxical situation where, the need to address its market competitiveness became pressing, but it was forced to do it without transforming itself into a commercialized daily newspaper. The city papers were thus a means for the morning press to serve its propaganda reporting function by generating revenue through the creation of commercial appeal by publishing its own commercialized daily newspapers, taking the form of city papers. I think this was perhaps the first few visible outcomes of the, now, longstanding conflict between party logic and commercial viability. This two pronged approach or what is perhaps more commonly known as the ‘one system two strategies’ model seems to run visibly in most of the Chinese authorities’ policies. What happens as a result of this is the diversification and subsequent proliferation of the Chinese media which build’s China’s unique media landscape. It can then perhaps be presumed that such is the intention of the Chinese government based on several medium reforms just like the authenticating of city newspapers. This then, reinforces in me the belief that western media ideals have little to no bearing on most of the media related reforms witnessed in the last decade in China. When China bans content e.g. Google, twitter etc, it is not crippled by the lack of access but instead seems to create a market for a more localised type of the content it has banned. So the idea is adopted, but it is then adapted within local context and then the uptake of that medium enjoys a success rate even the original did. How can this be applied within a PR context? Although Chinese agencies are still keen to acquire knowledge and skills more familiar to their western counterpart, I think the true success of PR efforts within China lie in the ability for firms to identify quickly and then localize trends spotted globally. It has become undeniable that social media is indeed enacting a revolution in the business world and through extracting the concepts that made city newspapers such a maddening success, like an independent voice untainted by radicalism etc, and applying it to new media strategies, PR practitioners in China will for sure maintain an edge over their competitors.

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