The changing environment of news-making in China

From left: Ye Jin, Gianluigi Negro, Zhan Zhang and Emma Lupano to discuss the journalistic role in today's China.
From the left: Ye Jin, Gianluigi Negro, Zhan Zhang and Emma Lupan discuss journalism in today’s China.


“Chinese media are opening up. Slowly, gradually, but they are.” At the International Journalism Festival, a panel of four discussed the changing environment of news-making in China.  The panelists, Ye Jin from the University of Coventry , Dr. Emma Lupano from the University of Milan, Gianluigi Negro and Zhan Zhang, both from the University of Italian Switzerland, each focused on a different aspect of China’s news environment.

Journalistic professionalism dilemmas

Ye Jin, a former journalist who worked for two prominent Chinese television broadcasters, CCTV and Phoenix TV, shared her view on journalistic professional dilemmas in today’s Chinaa. Since the western concept of journalistic professionalism was introduced in China, there have been gaps between the implementation of ethic norms for reporters and the academic principles of news reporting.

 “The rapidly expanding economic market lead to a collapse of hegemony in the Chinese media industry,” said Jin. China Central Television (CCTV), one of the biggest national broadcast companies, has increased the number of foreign correspondents in their bureax and is trying to report more international breaking news. However, it has been accused of fabricating interviews and of mis-reporting the words of their interviewees in their coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack.


Growing importance of Chinese media

The number of Chinese newspapers has been growing gradually over the years. According to the Basic Information of National Press and Publications, in August 2014 there were 1,915 newspapers published in China with around 48.24 billion copies printed. The figures show that Chinese newspapers are taking on an important role in influencing the world. Media outlets like CCTV, Xinhua and People’s Daily are expanding their audience and establishing online media platforms.

“20% of the most well-known newspapers in the world are based in China. It means that Chinese newspapers are beginning to have influence outside Chinese borders,” Gianluigi Negro commented.

He also pointed out that even though China developed the Internet starting in the 90s, later than in the West, it has been catching up and has developed a new role for media in the country. Negro said that according to Iimedia Research, 344 million subscribers were accessing news through news apps by the end of 2013 and 60.4% of them were mobile phone users.

The censorship of Google, YouTube and Facebook has led the Chinese government to set up its own national social networking services (SNS), reaching millions of followers, both inside and out of China. The rise of the Chinese media system has successfully showcased the importance of Chinese publications to the world. China hosted the World Media Summit in 2013 and World Internet Conference in 2014.

“The Chinese media system is changing. It’s trying to establish and enforce its position as leader in terms of media systems at the international level,” said Negro.


Insight of Foreign correspondent in China

China has increasingly been covered by international news in the past 10 years. Countries around the world are trying to send foreign correspondents to China for first-hand information. It is known that China is restrictive on reporting news, in particular it is sensitive about issues regarding the government. Is it true?

Zhan Zhang has been doing research on foreign correspondents’ new practices in China, and she mentioned that with the consolidation of China’s economic power in the past three decades, China has become more important in the world’s system and started to receive coverage from different news outlets much more frequently in recent years.

Almost 70% of the foreign correspondents working in China generally require an assistant to help out with the language barrier. A Position Paper published in September 2014 by the Foreign Correspondent Club of China (FCCC) revealed that 80% of foreign correspondents thought their working conditions had worsened or stayed the same as the year before and 99% of them didn’t think their reporting conditions met international standards.

“Two-thirds of foreign correspondents’ interviews are done with the help of assistants,” Zhang said. “The assistants are mainly young writers from universities, aged around 20 to 30, who study foreign languages and lack professional training.”

The Chinese government has been restrictive and sensitive to issues regarding critics of the party and government bodies. “There are widespread stereotypes in China that see foreign media as always wanting to report negative stories about the country,” said Zhang. The government always shuts its door as it is scared of receiveing criticism. She added that foreign correspondents have difficulties conducting interviews when they report on sensitive issues and that most of them feel their relationship with the Chinese government hasn’t improved in recent years.


Freelancers in China

Besides foreign correspondents for big media outlets, the number of freelancers is growing in China, with a booming market for training courses to fulfill young people’s ambition of becoming journalists.

According to Emma Lupano, there are more than 100,000 freelancers working in China, of which only one-tenth are full-time. Freelancers are new actors in the traditional communist society, they are the “new subjects” in the relationship between media and the political party, a bridge between the people and the party.

The idea of Western media culture only came to China after the media reform in the late 80s when media outlets developed online social media platforms and other social networking services.

Freelancers in China usually work from home and for more than one media company. They report mainly on entertainment features and commentaries, no hard news, because hard news is restricted to ‘registered’ journalists (those who have a journalist card from big media outlets).

Lupano recalled her working experience: “There are limitations and boundaries when you encounter sensitive issues. You don’t know in advance your articles have been changed but at the same time, you have to respect them.” She tells us there are strategies to get around the boundaries: “Express the words that do not cross the boundaries, choose wisely, write indirectly or in an artistic way.”

China is opening up its media market slowly, and journalists are looking forward tomore room for freedom of expression despite the control of the Chinese government.