By: Richard King
Media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) normally consists of television, newspapers, radio and magazines. Since 2000, the internet has also become a component of Chinese media.
Since the establishment of the PRC in 1949 and until the mid 1980s, almost all media in China was run by the government. Independent media began to surface with economic reforms, although the government-run media, such as Xianhua, CCTV, and the People’s Daily continued to control a significant market share. It is interesting that the independent media are no longer required to follow many of the journalistic guidelines set by the government. However, agencies such as the General Administration of Press and Publication, and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television continue to have strict regulations on subjects considered to be inappropriate by the government, including criticism of the communist party, government policies in ethnic autonomous regions and pornography.
Even though strict government monitoring of media continues, the Chinese media has become more commercialized. Areas, such as sports, finance, and entertainment face only minimum regulation from the government. The control of the media was significantly relaxed during the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping, and then tightened again in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square Protest. Regulations were reduced again in the 1990s under Jiang Zemin. So, the government continues to be heavily involved in the media in the PRC, but there is a growing diversity of the media due to the fact that most government controlled media outlets are no longer heavily subsidized by the government and are expected to pay for themselves through commercial advertising. They can no longer just serve as representatives of the government but need to attract advertising through programming that people find attractive.
Now let’s take a look at some specific components of Chinese media: First television: In 1979, when I first visited China, the PRC had less than one television receiver per 100 people, and fewer than ten million Chinese had access to a television set. Now, according to the World Bank, there are about 35 TV sets for every 100 people and over more than a billion have access to television. Also in 1979, there were 12 TV and 95 radio stations in mainland China. Today, there are approximately 700 TV stations, 3,000 cable channels and over 1,000 radio stations.
Television is controlled by Chinese Central Television (CCTV) which is the countries only national network. A vice minister serves as chairman of CCTV. The networks; directors and officers are all appointed by the government. Even though CCTV is the most powerful network in mainland China, it has only 30% of the audience. Chinese viewers prefer local TV programs more than national or international programs.
Newspapers: There are more than 2,500 newspapers in China and 7,000 magazines and journals reaching over 500 million people. In addition more than 25,000 printing houses and bookstores produce and sell unofficial material mostly romance literature and pornography. Although there are many newspapers in China, the leading ones are run by the government: The People’s Daily, Beijing Daily, and the Liberation Daily. There are two leading news agencies in China, Xinhua and the China News Service.
Although there are some indications that government control of the media in China is becoming less stringent, the Press Freedom Index states, “China has the sorry distinction of leading the world in the repression of the media”. For 2011, China ranks the 168th worst out of 178 nations. China still has a long way to go to achieve a free media environment.