Xi’s media convergence call draws notice
Even the veteran reporters in state-run media did not expect President Xi Jinping would expound on media reform. Xi called for “Internet thinking” and media convergence between traditional media and new media.
“China should have several influential media groups,” Xi said last week.
There are various interpretations of Xi’s message. The People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency vowed to take the lead in embracing new information technology. Private new media groups saw a hike in their stock prices immediately. Some foreign media believed that Chinese media will have more of a presence in the global opinion market.
Although the authority has not unveiled the detailed implementation plan of media reform, the goal is clear that Chinese media should become more competitive and more responsive to market changes, technology and audience needs.
China’s media landscape divides between State-run media and private new media. Some analysts think the media reform is to combine the former’s advantage in personnel with the latter’s strength in technology and market influence.
The “marriage” will by no means be an easy task.
Most of the 100 some media groups with government background in China have set a goal of media integration since the Internet started spreading years ago. But few have emerged as powerful competitors in the new media arena due to their rigid bureaucratic management and government subsidies.
Yet, their influence dwindles, especially among young people, in contrast with the fast growing privately-owned social media, which is often plagued by rumors and sensational stories.
Although China sees several big information technology companies rising out of cut-throat competition in their fields, few can go beyond their borders, strictly marked by rules to traditional media which remains the authority’s main messenger.
Overseas, language barriers, limited outlets, and cultural and technology gaps, Chinese media pales compared to their Western counterparts.
The Chinese media’s lackluster performance is believed to be the main driving force motivating Chinese leaders to reform the media, the first reform in the field since China’s market economy reforms in 1978.
Another backdrop of the reform is a series of scandals related to the media. Several executives, producers and journalists of China’s Central Television were recently detained and investigated for their corruption, power abuse and alleged personal connections with some senior officials sacked in Xi’s anti-graft campaign.
The different status, management, business and profit models of state-run media and private media are the main barriers to their convergence.
Chinese reformers approach the thorny state-owned enterprise reform through mixed ownership reform in some carefully selected industries where the SOEs lose money.
Media is a different industry from the railways, oil refineries and telecommunications in that it has complicated social and political influences. It is very difficult to carry out a similar mixed ownership reform in the media convergence and reform.
A likely prospect is that the state-run media will make more of an effort to expand its operations in the new media arena. Their market share and influence at home will probably rise, with a shot in their arm from Xi’s message despite huge input.
China’s private media will be operated under a more regulated and transparent state at home, and will enjoy a bigger stage abroad thanks to its technology advantages.
Xi’s high-profile presence in the launching ceremony of a Portuguese online search engine run by Baidu Inc, the largest privately-owned online search engine in China, in his visit to Brazil last month sends out a signal that the private media group is more important for China’s international communication projects than before.
The senior executives of some top Chinese IT companies like the Alibaba Group, China’s largest e-commerce enterprise, Tencent Inc, the largest social media group in China, and the other influential news portals, are also new frequenters of President Xi’s visit to China’s major traders, and Premier Li Keqiang’s key economic conferences at home.
In fact, the crux of China’s media reform is that the Chinese authority urgently needs to deepen the rule of law in the media field.
China embraces dozens of new laws and amendments each year to fit its fast development. The authority mainly relies on rules and regulations to manage such a dynamic industry as the media.
With laws, Chinese media’s operation, competition and communication behaviors will have clear codes to live by and become more transparent while the media’s reform in China will be more oriented to the market, which is a key to meeting its goal.
Exhibition booth of Tencent Inc’s WetChat, the most popular social media in China today, in the Internet Conference on Aug 26 in Beijing.