Too Much “Negative” News, or Too Little?

Last week, China Media Project wrote about a recent series of articles in the Beijing Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Party leadership, that blasted the West, including an editorial that condemns Western-style media freedoms. From CMP:

An editorial in the the paper today criticizes “commercial newspapers and magazines” in China — that would be the likes of Southern Metropolis Daily, Caixin Media, Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post, etcetera — of being infected with a Western notions of journalism that they do not sufficiently understand.

The editorial argues further that the Western concepts of the media’s role do not suit China’s unique “circumstances”.

“Chinese media must sing the main theme,” the editorial said, a reference to the media’s role as propaganda vehicles for the CCP. “This is determined by China’s political system, and accords with the realities of China as a nation of 1.3 billion people. The fact is that for China to develop it must maintain social stability, and it must create a public opinion environment conducive to stability.”

CMP also pointed out that after the editorial was published, ironically, searches for “Beijing Daily” were blocked from Sina Weibo.

CMP now reports that the above editorial has inspired a lively debate in China about the purpose of the media. They translate a letter to Southern Metropolis Daily in which the author disagrees with the concept of media put forward by the Beijing Daily:

On the question of whether or not media reports on food safety have created a sense of fear and anxiety, we have recently had two media expressing different views on this issue. Beijing Daily says that quite a few report lately — on food safety, doctor-patient conflicts, construction quality, official corruption and other issues — have been built up by the media, giving the impression that all food in China is “poisonous”, the all buildings are “tofu architecture,” that all public officials are corrupt, and suggesting that social tensions are growing ever more severe and prospects for development are grim. “In fact,” the newspaper said, “this is just a mistaken impression created by various media.”

The Xinhua Daily Telegraph responded with an editorial called, “Expert Opinion Helps Calm ‘Food Panic’” (专业舆论有助于消除“吃的恐慌”). The editorial argued that “facing problems head on is the basis of resolving problems, and media reporting on food safety issues is a form of monitoring by public opinion and monitoring by society that should be encouraged” (New Express, May 19).

Naturally, the fact that such issues as food safety, doctor-patient conflict, construction quality and official corruption have become public opinion hotspots has to do with media reports. But if there were no media reports, would these problems be any less obvious or serious? No one lives in a vacuum, and the various problems we come upon were not created because of media reports. Sometimes, naively, I’m even of a mind to feed information to the media! Which is to say, I think there are far too few media reports on negative issues.


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