Thursday, 4 December 2008

The all seeing, all powerful State Media

So the Guardian ran with the story of this year's graduate employment slump today, a story that has been making the rounds through small papers, Xinhua and, of course, the Shanghai Daily. It's a scary story, but that is not what this post is about.

The story cites a quote from another source at the end, detailing how dire the situation is for graduates right now. The quote wasn't given to one paper though. Apparently the student told "the state media."

Now, what does that mean? Does that mean that the student told the entire body of state media? In which case that would be a pretty huge chunk of people who got told the same quote (all Chinese media are state run in some way). Does it mean that it was told to the big, official players (Xinhua, CCTV, The People's Daily etc)? Or does it just mean that it was told to any Chinese newspaper/TV station and the Guardian decided to play the "state media" card?

Before I sound like a propagandist for the Chinese media, I am not saying the Chinese media is perfect. Far from it. My problem is with when we fuel misunderstanding back home with phrases like that – catch all terms that are not wrong, but are not very specific either.

First of all, each media institution in China is in competition with the others, therefore to say that something was given to the state media implies that it was given to everyone, for everyone to use.

Also, by the very tone, it also suggests that censorship and regulation of the media is a highly oiled, impressively efficient, all-seeing, all-knowing process. It's not. There are numerous different bodies involved in controlling the media, each with a lot of their own bureaucracy. Yes, censorship does happen – more often than not on a self-censorship level – but papers have been learning to push boundaries over the last few years and the government is slowly catching up.

This year, for example, during the Sichuan earthquake, saw some of the most open coverage of a disaster ever seen in China. Two earthquakes in the 1970s (Tonghai which killed around 15000 in 1970 and Tangshan which killed hundreds of thousands in 1976) were kept quiet by authorities. Sichuan, however, was everywhere. In papers, on the TV, on the Internet. It's being hailed in journalism schools in China (or Fudan's anyway) as one of the biggest markers for the development of Chinese journalism.

Anyway, my point is that there is no meaning in citing a quote from "state media". Not only is it vague, it is also misleading. A lot of criticism from Chinese journalists and academics focuses on the belief that the West views China through rose-tinted glasses. It's when we print things like that that we are, and I have to agree with them.

Guardian story
Shanghai Daily
My story in the Edinburgh Journal about this kind of stuff (Not up week?)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. As a UK reader of your site, I totally agree that there is a lot of subtle subtext in the UK press about China which we in the UK don't catch.

    Chinese censorship is like a cockroach in your drink, you can spot it, take it out and you have the full story. Western censorship and propaganda is like Arsenic. You don't know its in your drink until its too late.

    It would be interesting to read your final article, before and after the Guardian mess with it!