Media expansion draws pros, cons

09:41, July 07, 2010      

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Recent ambitious global expansion maneuvers by China's State media have brought both acclaim and suspicion, especially in Western nations, whose observation of the Chinesemedia landscape has been mostly shaped by their understanding of State-owned media.

Some scholars, however, note that market-oriented media groups in China have wielded a huge social impact, moving from a propaganda role to that of watchdog, with increasing independence. It is a phenomenon that foreign observers have been slower to identify.

The latest move in China's global media expansion is the launch of a 24-hour English-language news channel, CNC World, run by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency. It is reportedly preparing to build a newsroom at the top of a 44-story skyscraper in New York's Times Square and will provide programs in other foreign languages.

China Central Television (CCTV), the country's biggest state-run television station, is planning to launch an international channel in Portuguese, adding to its broadcasting in Chinese, English, French, Arabic and Russian.

The government has called for the strengthening of institutional reforms in the cultural and media sector and urged them to establish a foothold internationally since 2006.

Recent major makeovers were hailed by media analysts as striking because many Western media organizations, faced with an advertising slump, have scaled back operations by closing bureaus and laying off employees.

Qiao Mu, chief of the international communication studies center at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times that these efforts to make the Chinese voice heard display a new form of overseas publicity and is a crucial means to increase soft power.

While expecting the move would bring qualitative change to China's international communication, Qiao expressed concern over whether State media can be sustained and adapt to the free market.

Meanwhile, foreign observers questioned whether the state-run news services could attract a big international audience, as they are perceived as propaganda vehicles lacking credible and objective reporting.

A survey carried out recently under an international research project asked interviewees to list five words about Chinese media's image.

The word "censorship" topped all the answers.

The survey comprised a similar number of males and females from 37 countries and regions, totaling 219, and was made up of university students and scholars.

Yu Guoming, a professor of media studies at the Renmin University of China, argued that the Western mainstream audience attaches a label to Chinese media and sees it with a one-dimensional view, ignoring its great transition in the past two decades since the industry became commercial.

Luo Qing, an associate professor at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times that the results reflect that even foreign intellectuals believe that all Chinese media outlets are under the strict control of the government and have no awareness that they are getting more and more critical to authorities.

"Foreigners' awareness level of Chinese media is much lower than their understanding of the country's history, society and economy," said Luo, who is also the coordinator of an international project, Attitudes Toward China Before and After the Beijing Olympics, launched in May 2008, that studies China's international communication impact.

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