A Tension In Media Society Media

Essay add: 29-03-2016, 12:06   /   Views: 7

The media in mainland China has a complex relationship between commercialization and political control. On the one hand, the media in mainland China are owned by the state since the economic reform in 1978. As the public's growing demand for media and the huge burden that the government could no longer bear anymore, media commercialisation, therefore, was permitted and encouraged by the government. The relationship between the business and the government is mutually beneficial. On the other hand, traditional Party ideologies still impact negative influences on the media commercialisation due to the traditional political control. One function of the media in mainland China is mouthpieces of the ruling party, which means the Party, supervises the media as its propaganda, could not be full-scale commercialisation for it in mainland China. Some strain or extreme control of the media limited the development and freedom of market operation, which is different from the media in democratic regime. To some extent, there is inevitable tension between commercialisation and political control in Chinese media.

Most people believe that media in authoritarian regime are political actors. There is no doubt that the media act as an important agent in the process of nation-building. Duncan MacCargo(2003) described that in democratic transition, the media has three alternative modes of agency: the agency of stability, the agency of restraint, the agency of change. It means media have the responsibilities of social and political controls.

Complete state-owned media

Chinese media had experienced a long history of tight controlling by the government from 1950s to 1970s until the economic reforms in the late 1970s. During that old time, the peculiar information system is adaptable to that special period that the society is still unstable after the People's War of Liberation in 1949. "At the time, population mobility was relatively low, there was little capital flow across regions, and communication instruments were limited."(Lidan Chen: 2008). Therefore, at that time, the function of domestic media was completely "mouthpieces" and the duty of the media is propagating the ruling party's goals. Under the ruling ideology of Mao Zedong's policy "new news, old news, and no news" (1983,pp. 193-194) , many media workers knew what to report, how much time should they delayed to report, and "made mistakes" in reporting news in order to survival in that strict political control circumstances. Unprofessional practices of journalists became a kind of habits and the media became a tool of the Party for consolidation of power.

Similarly, Taiwan where was under authoritarian regime in one-party dominance period after1945 to 2000 (dominated by the KMT). The KMT party-state confronted many threats and challenges since 1940s. For one thing, continuing military from PRC threatened the power of the KMT. For another, the KMT as a newly non-native power holder from mainland China had huge responsibilities of nation-building, such as economic development, propaganda and ethnic problems. Constructing new political and social system came to the KMT for consolidating its status in Taiwan, including media system.

Numerous unstable elements decided media policies since 1945 by the KMT. The media organisations either the broadcast or the press was tightly controlled by the KMT, even the workers in media were member of them.

According to Gary Rawnsley's paper "Treading a Fine Line: Democratisation and the Media in Taiwan" wrote that in1976, the media in Taiwan act as transmission belts for government propaganda and mobilisation. They concerned about the ideology and political control at all levels of media. Han Chinese culture was promoted by the media as a kind of political mission; the broadcast was required use Mandarin Chinese, although Taiwanese are the majority of the residences. And also, in press sector, a series of laws were announced by the KMT that any print production which were against the government policies or military interests can be recalled even the press had published them. Many laws were very specific, such as the Publication Law referred to how many pages the relevant press could be print, and even the 'reliable' persons. Whoever report news against such laws would be judged, for example, during 'white terror' between 1950 t 1987, many media workers were in trouble with any action of testing the boundaries (Gary D. Rawnsley,1997,p210).

Media transitions

In mainland China, during the economic reform era, although party continued controlled the media for the purpose of propaganda, there is a significant change in political control of media. The media's role and structure had been shifted especially after the mid-1980s. Political reporting for propaganda goals still existed, while professional values like economic reporting were considered by the Party. After that, a reform separate government administration from party ideological leadership was pushed onto the Party's agenda (Yuezhi Zhao:1998). It means the dominant of the government was declining. At the same time, a discussion which desire for the more freedom and relative autonomy of media was carried out by the Party leadership. Zhao Ziyang's report mentioned that "political transparency" about the journalism reform in Thirteenth National Party Congress in October 1987. More public participation, democratic decision making and autonomy practices are put front issue in the economic reform.

In Taiwan, the ownership patterns had changed in 1987 when the social liberalisation was influential to the political and social systems of Taiwan. KMT separated the media ownership into four parts: party-owned, government-owned military-owned and privet-owned. During this time, although market mechanism was at essential level, the major TV station still had inferences from theKMT. There are many facts showed that private-owned media had a close relationship with the parties, the government and the military, for instance, the owners of the two newspapers with high circulation in Taiwan were members of the KMT Central Standing Committee (Gary D. Rawnsley, 1997, p212).

After the media political transition from authoritarian to democratic pattern, in the beginning of democratic media, there were many problems between the relationship of the parties' control and market mechanism. Many media organisation could not completely break away from the parties' power. "The board of directors and managers of each station have been dominated by people who are closely affiliated with powerful political interests. The major dailies are also linked to the political parties ideologically, if not organizationally."(Ven-hwei Lo, Joseph Man Chan&Zhongdang Pan, 2005, 156) Therefore, Taiwan media as a democratic representative in Asian media are also under the pressure of the parties or the government who influenced the media operation directly or indirectly.

Since 1980s, with growing demand for advertising by enterprises in mainland China, reform and openness provided a good condition for media commercialization. As the reform bring economic prosperity, although the Party still had great political and ideological influences on the media, the increasing demand for media development could not be neglected by the Party. For the reason of the huge burden of media expenses and the limited revenue, the government rather invest in such as infrastructures and education, therefore, "the government pursued a policy of economic decentralization, which led to redistribution of wealth from the central government to local governments, enterprises, and individuals (Yuezhi Zhao:1998). For example, The Jiling provincial Party organ, Jilin Daily stopped receiving government funds entirely in 1983. In 1985, it earned profit of more than 4 million Yuan and paid the taxes to government more than 1 million Yuan (China Journalism Yearbook: 1987, 95-97). From the example we can see that in early 1980s the government gradually cut subsidies and supported commercial financing. The market mechanisms began in 1978,the introduction of a business management system at People's Daily was approved. Although these newspapers are still received subsidies and controlled by politics and ideology, they began to run business.

In the broadcast, the Chinese government encouraged broadcasting organizations to make profit by themselves due to the big gap between what the government could invest and what the broadcast needed, although the government still provide founds for the broadcast organizations at all level. In1983, the Party's official document mentioned that the broadcast organizations should explore commercial interests from the market not only receive funds from the government. In 1988, Shun Fudi put forward "A Preliminary Exploration into the Overall Benefits of Radio and Television Broadcasting" ( Chinese Journal of Broadcasting: 1990) . It is the first time for the Party and the government clearly stated that broadcasting should depend on multiple ways of financing.

Whereas, most broadcast station has not adopted enterprise management system, they have established responsibility contracts with respective government financial departments. The broadcast station not only received the certain funds the government provided, but also had self-generated income. Like the slogan we familiar "running on two wheels at the same time", it means the media should not only publish news, but also make money in the market economy. Indeed, with the supporting of Chinese government and the Party in media commercialisation," creating income" became a popular trend in media industries since the mid-1980s.

In Taiwan, political democratisation gave the chances to media to stay in market mechanism. Therefore, media got more freedom and multi-ways to make profits. Although the party owned some degree share in various media organisations, market economics affected the media in Taiwan far away from state regulation even in nowadays. In the area of political publication, Taiwanese media more focus on offering opinions for politicians no matter who are established or aspiring. The media provided a transparent platform for politicians giving different opinions due to the democratic politics. This is different from media pattern in mainland China, the media in Taiwan allowed private media equally compete in the market. The nature of commercialisation decides whoever can pay the money to operate the media owns what they pay for. Many politicians are willing to invest in the media, such as owning themselves program on the TV or radio. As a result they can receive good reputation from the media, which are helpful to their further political live, especially for elections.

In mainland China, the effective cooperation between the government and commercialisation can be seen from several aspects: advertising, paid information programs, sponsorships, etc.


In the early 1979, advertising became an important symbol of Chinese media commercialisation, the Party and the government described advertising as "a potential tool for economic reform, the four modernizations, and social change."(Xuejun Yu: 1991).In 1982, the official announcement which clearly point out that advertising has the responsibility to "promote production, increase commodity circulation, guide consumption, invigorate the economy, increase consumer convenience, develop international economic activities, serve the needs of socialist construction and promote socialist moral standard."(The Gazette: 1991).

With the rapidly increasing market profits and the favourable government policies, the promising development of media industries in the market economy was visible. In 1992, television, newspapers, magazines and radio received 4 billion Yuan of advertisement, and the total advertising revenue was 6.78 billion Yuan. ( People's Daily: 1993). The rate of advertising revenue continued to increase dramatically in 1993, which achieved 13.4 billion Yuan. (People's Daily: 1994)

As such a remarkable market potentiality showed in the developing Chinese media market, it attracted foreign investor's attentions. Although no one can expected the risk invested in newly opened China, foreign advertising swarmed into Chinese media market. Hong mentioned in his book (1994) "the Resurrection of Advertising in China" that by 1987 many American-based multinationals such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, IBM, Gillette were invest in advertisement in China around 16 million dollars each year.

(2)Paid information programs

Commercialisation of media in China goes far beyond advertising. The media organisations became an information plat for the government and business cooperate partners. What contents show to be can be divided into two aspects: paid information and unpaid information. Paid information is relative to the term "Product-Placement", it means information provided by sponsors integrate into regular media content, and audiences usually have no consciousness that they are implanted the information in a soft way. Take the economy program for example, the unpaid information focus on macro-economic policies and prediction in future economy trend. Paid information reported specific and typical business with the advertising values. Most provincial and local station all had economy program, on the one hand, they followed the political policies to report news for the economic development, one the other hand, they achieved a huge success both in making profits and reputations. Paid information programs were a representative combination of the media commercialisation and the implement of government policies.

(3)Sponsorship system

Another form of media commercialisation is commercial sponsorship. Since 1982, commercial sponsorship is only limited in entertainment and educational programs. It became pervasive since 1992 to news programs and at all levels of different media. A notable form of sponsorship system was joint programs. In these programs, the government or business provided money and materials to media organizations. Xu Chonghua, the duty minister of Radio, Film, and Television, gave a speech to public in 1992:"Government departments want to expand propaganda; enterprises want to promote their products. They are willing to spend money on programs…. There is no problem with joint program production." Therefore, it seems that the media had become the mouthpiece of whoever can pay, however, in China, if the government and the enterprise were under the same conditions of competition; the former always had the priority.

With taking the advantage of the democratic regime, the media in Taiwan have enjoyed high level of market mechanisms and commercialisations after World War II. In 1970s, Taiwan began a process of modernization of industry, especially in high technology. The economy boom helped Taiwanese media equip with good conditions and a clear policy that develop

The current relationship between commercialisation and the government

Today, although the media in China still owned by the state, it has become increasing independent from complete state finance reliance to business operation. Party organs are no longer simple mouthpieces, they are business conglomerates. The media receives money from both the government and market. Many newspaper organisations, for instance, have achieved complete financial independence. Although most broadcast stations receive financial aid from the government, they increasingly depend on the advertising and sponsorships. The government funding is more political and symbol than financial because it only occupies a small amount of broadcast operation funds.

However, it is not full-scale commercialisation after the economic reform began in Chinese media industries. As the nature of authoritarian regime, the media could not be complete commercialisation. The function of Propaganda tool of media were reducing in new China comparing with Mao Zedong' period, while the media still operated as political instrument. Whereas, the media in authoritarian regime such as China are regarded as sophisticated political actors(Duncan McCargo:2003). Power-holders still control the media organizations for their own political favours and consolidated the dominancy of CCP. Besides the political news publishing, not the chief editor or other leaders in media organisations but the government owns the right to choose the investors for its political goals. It is controversial that an exchange happened between 1982 and 1984. Chinese television stations gave advertising time to American media companies for the exchange of various American programs. It seems the government brought foreign culture and media to domestic media in order to open the world for audiences. However, it is not fair market competition for domestic and other foreign sponsors, and also at the same time, the government published policies to establish diplomatic relations with the US for the purpose of political strategic cooperation.

Another unfairness sample in the process of Chinese media commercialisation is CCTV monopolistic access to national audiences. Although in 1990s, CCTV had achieved tremendous revenue from advertising far more than other local TV station, the monopolisation was disadvantage to other local stations' profits. There is no doubt that such political system can win the majority of the audiences in China, which was the most welcomed area for advertising sponsors for their business interests. CCTV won much higher price than any other TV stations, while the reason for it is not only they are the main national station, but also they accessed to every citizens' home.

Meanwhile, the media commercialisation and a degree of automatic policies also had impact on political publicizing. The advertisement either in newspaper or in broadcasting occupied increasingly places of pages or screens which was reserved political and ideological publicizing. Because of the advertising prices attraction, the front pages or the first spot are sold by the owners. Moreover, many practices took by the Party organs. During the Cultural Revolution, this space was occupied for Chairman Mao's political slogans. The reduction of the Party's occupying in media catered the need of the economic reform and commercial policy. While it to some degree reduced reporting political contents.

The media commercialisation policies lead to the power shift from complete state controlling to a degree automatic operations. The contents of media are rather focus on economic or other area which audiences interest in rather than simply propaganda or the Party's policies, especially in local media. However, the government has not loosened political control over the media. For one thing, Political news has become more tightly controlled, although it is less and less prominent. For another, as the state controlled the number of media outlets, advertisers are pushed to focus on Party organs, therefore, their contents are limited, and they also should go through the strict media censorship. Advertisers get a lot pressure from the political control. Moreover, the media play roles as instruments of economic development and mouthpieces of the Party. "Although the Party had a long way toward yielding control of economy to the market, it had not yielded political control or changed the pattern of political communication."(Mingxin Pei: 1994). In Chinese press industry, for example, the issue of private ownership of media is still being suppressed, while in the West, individual media organisations are a form of effective media operation in commercialisation, they have more freedom in contents and ideologies.

Another phenomena of tension between commercialisation and political can be seen from the news quality. Because of the political constraints and the lack of autonomy, media products are lack of creativity and productivity. Poor news quality and low moral came out to media organisations. Due to the Party still tightly control the ideologies, especially in news media; the media workers sometimes can not say the truth against the Party or the government, although this kind of news could attract public's attention as a result of achieving quite potential profits for their own organisations. If the media workers talk against the Party's policies, or talk about sensitive topic in the public, they will in "trouble". Therefore, for the least purpose of avoiding get in trouble, the media organisations are lack of motivation. The news media workers are all know the casting couch that what to report and when to report, which is converse the responsibility of democratic media. In market mechanism, the tight news political control has the negative impact for the development of media commercialisation because they have to loose a large amount of business interests in exchange of political safety.

In terms of the situation in Taiwan, this relationship has its own features. Firstly, 'Taiwan's democratic political development was dependent in part on the media' (Rawnsley, 2004). In spite of serve political control that intruded on and restricted the professional responsibilities, it is without doubt that Taiwan's various media industries benefited a lot from the investment and attention (Rawnsley, 2004). Although media carry out tasks of 'social purpose' concerning to public interest, they also have the task of earning a living (McQuail, 2003). Consequently commercialization of media or the market-place on media is not only crucial for the media themselves, but also for the governments as long as they want more dominant influence on public opinion. Therefore, there is duel dependence: government relies on media to spread its political will, while media depend on the financial support from the market, especially in market-oriented system. Secondly, ever since Taiwan is embedded the notion as democratic society, the freedom of press is placed in a highly regarded position. However, it is unavoidable for the political regime to leave some problems during the democratic transition. The absolute transformation hardly exists. In this circumstance, facing the pressure to make a living and under the spirit of journalist professionalism, the private lives of politicians become a fairly good news resource to attract public attention and gain more rate of the market on the one hand and uphold the journalist spirit on the other hand. However, the political sandal for public political officers is sometimes devastated. This sandal may even have a huge impact on the party's future. Therefore, in order to limit the influence of media pluralism, the government should also put forward some censorship for the excuse of national security and the protection of the non-adult. In this situation, 'journalists are still unclear about what is and is not permissible in a political system that guarantees free speech' (Rawnsley, 2004). Media then become the connection of the government and the market and thus serve as a tool to enforce the democracy and to testify the free market.

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