Central Party Media “Grab the Megaphone”

For China Media Project, Qian Gang writes about domestic coverage of the recent lead poisoning case in Shaanxi:

The story began when villagers reached a local metro newspaper, Sanqin Metropolitan Daily (三秦都市报), with their complaints. The paper published the first report on August 6.

Sanqin Metropolitan Daily is a newspaper belonging to Shaanxi Daily, the province’s official party newspaper. We can think of Shaanxi Daily as the “mother paper” (or “big paper,” 大报), and of Sanqin Metropolitan Daily as the “child paper” (or “little paper”, 小报).

While the “mother paper” relies almost entirely on subscriptions at public expense, mostly from government departments and state-owned enterprises, the “child” has to carve out an existence in the marketplace. It has to sell from the newsstand and draw advertising revenues. And while the “mother paper” is primarily a propaganda tool, a “mouthpiece” in the traditional sense, the “child” must accommodate the demands of the media consumer. This is the state of affairs as it has developed in China’s newspaper industry over the past ten years.

[…] As you might imagine, authorities in Shaanxi were not happy with the reports about lead poisoning in Fengxiang. This becomes clear when you observe the cold silence at the official Shaanxi Daily. It was not until nine days after the tragedy became known that the paper issued its first news item about lead contamination in Fengxiang. This was the direct result of pressure exerted by high-level party media – notably, Xinhua Online. Xinhua Online, in fact, was extremely active in reporting on the Fengxiang case.

I’ve made the point before that some of our friends outside China often see China’s media in very simplistic terms. They might suppose, for example, that negative news cannot be reported at all in China. Or that party media are propaganda tools that would never dare to expose ugly facts. But what we have seen in the Fengxiang case is that high-level party media have been the fiercest, both in revealing facts in the case and in offering shrill criticism. They have, in other words, taken the lead (掌握了主导权) .

August 20, 2009 2:23 PM
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