Will con­ver­gence help tra­di­tional me­dia?

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The fourth meet­ing of the Cen­tral Lead­ing Group for Com­pre­hen­sively Deep­en­ing Re­forms on Aug 18 is­sued a clear guide­line on the con­ver­gence of tra­di­tional and new­me­dia and their devel­op­ment. Pres­i­dent Xi Jinpng’s vow to de­velop “new, com­pet­i­tive main­stream me­dia with ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies” and set up “sev­eral pow­er­ful me­dia groups with a high level of public trust and in­flu­ence” means the con­ver­gence of the two forms of me­dia is now a na­tional pol­icy.

Tra­di­tional me­dia face two ma­jor crises. First, me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions such as news­pa­pers are fac­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems, be­cause their ma­jor source of rev­enue, that is, ad­ver­tise­ment, has been in con­tin­u­ous de­cline and they have not been able to work out a new busi­ness pat­tern. And sec­ond, po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, tra­di­tional me­dia have been los­ing their power, cred­i­bil­ity and in­flu­ence with the rise of new me­dia. Fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity will de­cide whether tra­di­tional me­dia will sur­vive in the mar­ket, and re­gain­ing their power and in­flu­ence will de­ter­mine whether they will con­tinue to draw peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.

The most di­rect ap­peal from China’s top lead­er­ship is to push for­ward the con­ver­gence of tra­di­tional me­dia and new­me­dia to help the for­mer over­come the sec­ond dilemma. The ques­tion is: Will the con­ver­gence help tra­di­tional me­dia take on the his­tor­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity at a time when the In­ter­net has be­come the main bat­tle­field of public opin­ions, which re­lates di­rectly to China’s ide­ol­ogy and State power?

Since economic con­di­tions could in­flu­ence the func­tion of pol­i­tics, there is no op­tion but to em­power the me­dia with strong com­pet­i­tive edge so that they could “oc­cupy the high ground for in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion”. New and com­pet­i­tive main­stream me­dia and emerg­ing me­dia groups, which mainly will re­flect public opin­ions, are ex­actly what the cen­tral gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to build. But we can­not ig­nore the fact that mar­ket suc­cess is a nec­es­sary but not bind­ing con­di­tion for in­flu­enc­ing public opin­ions, and that solid ma­te­rial foun­da­tion may not nec­es­sar­ily win public cred­i­bil­ity.

Some me­dia out­lets have bucked this trend and flour­ished in re­cent years even as the me­dia in­dus­try in gen­eral is in de­cline. Most of them have gen­er­ated in­come from di­ver­si­fied op­er­a­tions, such as real es­tate, ac­qui­si­tion of game com­pa­nies, or through travel and cater­ing agen­cies, rather than their main busi­ness. Since their busi­ness moves are aimed at sav­ing their flag­ships, that is, me­dia out­lets, they are be­yond re­proach. Yet such moves are a de­vi­a­tion from the orig­i­nal in­tent of con­sol­i­dat­ing “the bases to pro­mote ide­ol­ogy and cul­ture and ex­pand the in­flu­ence of main­stream public opin­ion”.

Since me­dia con­ver­gence has be­come a na­tional pol­icy, me­dia out­lets of all kinds across the coun­try are al­ready com­pet­ing for pol­icy re­sources. For ex­am­ple, tele­com gi­ant China Mo­bile has made a timely de­ci­sion to in­te­grate its five con­tent bases into a new­me­dia com­pany. But me­dia out­lets will not be­come more com­pe­tent to guide public opin­ion only be­cause of limit up in their stocks and by mak­ing cre­ative prod­ucts likeMYOTee. They need the power of ide­ol­ogy to see the game through.

Ex­pe­ri­ence shows that some me­dia out­lets could use the “me­dia con­ver­gence” pol­icy and public funds to their ad­van­tage in the “in­dus­try chain ex­ten­sion”. More­over, in the most cru­cial as­pects of in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion and guid­ing public opin­ion, pro­jects for po­lit­i­cal achieve­ments or im­age build­ing will emerge in batches with­out any con­cern for costs or out­come and even­tu­ally re­main un­fin­ished. Per­haps me­dia out­lets would even­tu­ally be­come game com­pa­nies (as some al­ready have), with­out help­ing im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and public opin­ion.

Pres­i­dent Xi said: “Re­form of the me­dia should com­bine me­dia con­ver­gence and man­age­ment to make sure th­ese two fol­low the cor­rect path of progress.” And by do­ing so, he has de­fined the re­quire­ments for me­dia con­ver­gence and man­age­ment, that is, the two el­e­ments can­not be in­de­pen­dent of each other even if the ef­fort is not very fruit­ful. The au­thor is a re­searcher with the News Re­search In­sti­tute at Xin­hua News Agency.

WANG XIAOYING / CHINA DAILY

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