The end or the start of journalism? – the online extension of Chinese print media

Song Yan (University of Hong Kong, China)

In discussions about the Chinese media, journalism is often associated with propaganda, censorship and the jailing of journalists. But if the Chinese media, especially print media, appear to be a long way from maturing because of these obstacles – and are seen as the last bastion of China’s planned economy – the emergence of the Internet is dramatically changing the picture. Its rapid penetration of a mass audience is fast changing the rules of the game, both for media and the government. The Chinese media environment is still marked by boundaries set by the government, some in the form of explicit taboos on what can be reported, others in unspoken taboos that must be probed and tested. Moreover, the practice of journalism is circumscribed by two fundamental realities: first, that even in China’s so-called commercial media, investment does not guarantee control over content; second, that, at some level, all media organizations are state-owned. Nevertheless, the development of online media in China is proving to be a major testing ground for print media seeking to enlarge these boundaries, both politically and commercially. Chinese print media view the Internet as the inevitable next step in the advancement of journalism in the country. But the approaches they are taking differ significantly. This paper explores the political, legal, and commercial boundaries within which Chinese media operate, and how they are building their online presence within those boundaries – often employing subtle means to cross these boundaries. An overview of the Chinese media market is followed by brief case studies based on extensive interviews with members of Chinese media companies.

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