Experts call for 'more relevant and credible' media

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 13, 2012
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With its meteoric rise, culminating in its status last year as the world's second-largest economy by GDP, China has rarely been out of the news in recent times.

Despite its undoubted global prominence, China's onstage presentation remains amateurish, and even clumsy, according to some observers. The country's efforts in building so-called "soft power", a phrase coined by American scholar Joseph Nye, are defined as a doomed charm offensive, and its media are widely regarded as a government mouthpiece.

Commenting in separate interviews with on the importance of cross-cultural communication to China's future success, two veterans of the subject also voiced their concerns over the current problems facing the country's media, and suggested some solutions.

Huang Youyi, member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Conference (CPPCC) and vice president of China International Publishing Group (CIPG), believes that soft power interacts closely with hard power. "If you have no means to support the presentation of your culture, you are shut up in your own country," he said.

Huang, as the boss of China's leading publisher for international readers, is ideally placed to comment on global cross-cultural matters, and he said that as China only threw off the shackles of extreme poverty a few decades ago, it is still too early to expect the country to produce its own Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

"China's economy is No. 2 [in the world], but technologically China is by no means No.2 in the world," he said.

The popularity of online social networks such as Kaixin001, Renren and Weibo (China's equivalent of Twitter), has skyrocketed in China of late. However, they face the dual threat of technological lag and the emergence into the Chinese market of formidable competitors such as Facebook. The company's founder, Mark Zuckerberg is currently looking to launch in China.

Commenting on the possible danger, Huang said: "Foreign competition will make the Chinese media more aware of the need to be competitive and creative. But [Facebook's entry into the Chinese market], is an economic issue rather than a purely technical one."

He continued: "Every country has to be careful about sharing the profits of their own markets, not to give all the profits, all the opportunities to outside competitors."

However, Richard Cole, a professor from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, held a different view. He believes that China's restriction on foreign social media is not simply a technical or economic concern.

"China needs to come closer to the realities of social media internationally," he said. "People everywhere need more access, not less, to worldwide information through the Internet. The more people know, the more they can understand."

He added: "When a government or group tries to hide information from the people, the people lose trust in the government or group. And eventually the information always comes out anyway."

Huang and Cole expressed divergent views on a number of issues, not only regarding online social networks, but regarding media credibility, especially the credibility of China's state-funded media, which looks to present the country to the outside world.

"The state-funded media have to earn respect internationally," said Cole. "To do that they must be seen as full, fair and accurate."

He continued: "One way the media can become more important in audience's lives is to run more advertising."

Huang, though, argued that accepting money can create a dilemma for the media. "If somebody pays some money, they want to, somehow, reshape the content," he said. "When you come to the issue of money, you should be very careful."

He continued: "If your media product is very good, money comes to you. But before that, you have to create something. It's not a black and white issue, and it is not that easy."

The state-funded-foreign-language media is constantly plagued by issues related to finance and content. On the one hand, they want to preserve the seriousness and integrity of their content. On the other hand, however, they choose to publish streams of sensational news and photos in order to increase public awareness of their publications. In China's ongoing reform of its cultural system, such publications need to tap more into the market in order to supplement their limited government subsidies.

Huang believes that for media bosses, the outstanding concern is to guarantee the credibility of their news content. To that end, they need good journalists who can write effectively in foreign languages. Huang also believes that having done this, bosses must then look to upgrade their equipment in order to ensure greater efficiency. However, both are dependent on the media's capacity to generate finance.

"People can only do certain things at certain stages," he said. "But we don't lose sight of the necessity to find appropriate sources of funding."

However, Cole believes that news content can be improved even without an increased budget.

"The media could cover more material of interest to everyday people, and less about official policy and procedure," he said. "[They could cover] more on health, more on sports, more on business, more on family, more on everyday activities and more on home life. And more on coping with problems in society. Every country in the world has societal problems that need to be tackled."

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