Xi’s me­dia con­ver­gence call draws no­tice

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By LI YANG

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.

ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY

Ex­hi­bi­tion booth of Ten­cent Inc’s WetChat, the most pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia in China to­day, in the In­ter­net Con­fer­ence on Aug 26 in Bei­jing.

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