Sunday, February 17, 2013

Daniela Stockmann’s "Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China"

Daniela Stockmann is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Leiden University. Since her first time to China in 1997 she has been fascinated with the rapid political transformation China is undergoing. Ten years of contemplating the role of media and public opinion in China’s political process resulted in Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China – a book that explores the introduction of market forces in Chinese media, linking censorship among journalists with patterns of media consumption and the media's effects on public opinion.

Stockmann applied the “Page 99 Test” to Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China and reported the following:
Nationalism seems to be on the rise in China. Since the late 1990s nationalist protests have taken place almost annually. As evident during the recent 2012 Senkaku / Diaoyu island disputes in the East China Sea, anti-foreign protests have been primarily directed against Japan, but also the United States. It is widely believed that this rise of Chinese nationalism is mainly a result of propaganda initiated by the state to boost the stability of the Chinese Communist Party.

In contrast to these common beliefs, page 99 reveals that the Chinese government has been trying to “massage” anti-foreign sentiment in recent years. Without exception, all forty-six editors and journalists I interviewed believed that Propaganda authorities demanded a positive spin on stories about the United States. Instructions by propaganda authorities asked journalists to report positively and omit controversial topics as potential sources of tension.

These state demands to tone down news reporting run counter to audience demands for more criticism of American politics, particularly foreign policy. Consider, for instance, the following comment by an editor-in-chief of a newspaper, on pages 101-102: “Ordinary people, especially netizens and young people, have very strong opinions about foreign policy toward the United States,... they criticize the government for being too soft. So the media cannot completely represent the government’s opinion and also not the citizens’ strong views.” Most of the time, media practitioners experience restrictions on news reporting by the state as attempts to constraint expression of negativity toward the United States demanded by Chinese audiences. In periods of crisis, audience demands for critical news reporting may overlap with a tougher stance taken by the government, and the absence of state restrictions and allowing media to freely follow market demands can produce highly negative reporting towards foreign countries.

This example taken from the production of news regarding the United States in Chinese media reveals how the interaction between demands by the market and the state can produce roughly one-sided political messages in the news, without always openly enforcing state demands on journalists. Journalists in China feel free to report about many stories in any way they like, but the Chinese state is able to synchronize news content by means of a sophisticated institutional framework within media remain embedded. If the state retains the institutional capacity to restrict news reporting when audience demands conflict with the state, market-based media promote regime stability, rather than destabilize authoritarianism or bring about democracy. A comparison with over thirty countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the post-Soviet region reveals that market influences in media are unlikely to undermine the Chinese Communist Party in the near future.
Learn more about the book and author at Daniela Stockmann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue