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HOME > 16th JAMCO Online International Symposium > Discussion 1: Comments on Report by Liu Zhiming, Chinese Academy of Social Science

JAMCO Online International Symposium

16th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January to March, 2007

Images of Foreign Countries Projected on Television of China, Korea, and Japan

Discussion 1: Comments on Report by Liu Zhiming, Chinese Academy of Social Science

Kiyoshi Takai
Professor, Graduate School of International Media and Communication, Hokkaido University

The Basic Media Environment in China

Since the introduction of open-door policy and economic reforms in the 1980’s, China succeeded in achieving spectacular economic growth and at the same time transition from a planned economy into a market economy. Alongside, society has diversified in dimension and range and is moving forward in the ongoing current of globalization. Conditions have transformed radically for the Chinese media, with the television industry undergoing transformation in media mix, by adding not only satellite and cable broadcasting but also the Web and mobile phone communication.

However, there has been no change in one-party leadership under the Communist Party of China, with the media positioned fundamentally in society as “the voice of the Party and the people (propaganda organ)” under control of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee (party-controlled media). Changes in the media alongside dissemination of the market economy are taking place within the framework as “party-controlled media.”

However, semi-private newspapers and magazines have emerged within this framework, taking advantage of means to do so made possible by party sanction of publishing operations with a relatively small capital. Established newspapers published by the Communist Party and other government organizations have been replaced by commercialized popular dailies as mainstream in the newspaper industry. Also, the Internet that rose with economic growth has major ISPs formed by private capital, and government regulations are relatively moderate. However, the TV industry that wields powerful influence on the Chinese public remains rigidly under the control of the Communist Party and the government, with virtually all TV channels belonging to government organizations on the four levels of “the Central Committee, provinces/special cities, cities and provinces” and foreign and private capital excluded from the industry.

TV Media Reporting under Party & Government Control

The point made in the early part of the Liu Zhiming report that “Chinese television had been relatively cautious in its coverage of Japan, due to strong government regulation, and in fact played a regulatory function in the anti-Japanese demonstrations, with media coverage rarely resorting to sensationalism” certainly is the product of the current political situation in which the Chinese TV media is in. “Anti-Japanese demonstrations” that took place in various parts of China in spring of 2005 have been ignited at that time by opposition against Japan becoming permanent member of the UN Security Council covered by popular dailies and web sites in China, as well as the Dokdo/Takeshima territorial dispute with South Korea and the issue of revisions made in Japanese history textbooks. Media coverage escalated by commercial popular dailies, by fanning the anti-Japan image that persists among the Chinese public.

On the other hand, Chinese TV did not directly cover the anti-Japanese demonstrations, and the negative image of Japan that popular dailies promoted was virtually nonexistent on TV. This very likely reflects the position of the Chinese government.

Amid the friction with the Koizumi administration over various issues, the Chinese government appears to have deliberately ignored such anti-Japan coverage by not intervening with the popular dailies and Web reports based on articles featured in such dailies but at the same time implemented rigid control over the TV industry, which strongly reflects government position. Because international news reporting on TV is based on news releases by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency, government opinion is clearly reflected in its coverage, and TV stations themselves must have implemented adequate self-restraint.

Still, this does not mean that China’s television industry is not against Japan. Since much of the information that they obtain comes from popular dailies and the Internet, the TV media naturally acquires an “anti-Japan” tone once they are granted freedom to produce use and other programs on Japan. In other words, information supplied through the restricted information channels in China consist mostly of information that is negative toward Japan. With repetition of the image in various media, it is easy to develop a stereotype that “Japan does not regret its history.”

Liu Zhuming reports that “Chinese media has broadcast war movies and programs in 2005, which marked the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII and implanted Japan’s image of ‘atrocity’ and ‘invasion.’ It cannot be denied that these broadcasts exacerbated the antagonistic sentiment among the people.” Chinese TV media, which had been relatively calm and objective in spring, contributed significantly to strengthen the negative image by gaining “freedom of broadcast” in Sino-Japanese relations by commemorating “Victory Day” over Japan.

Unfortunately, the volume of Japan-related news is extremely small. According to Liu, “National News aired 1720 international news stories in total in the eight months from January to August 2006. Of these, most were related to the United States, reaching 162 in number and accounting for nearly 10% of international news coverage. This is followed by Russia and 124 and by Japan with 68, ranking third.” This means that Japan-related news is reported only once in roughly every 4 days. With news content mainly on “international anime exhibitions, Aum Shinrikyo, new robots, train accidents, earthquake prediction system, etc.,” these news do not help in correcting anti-Japanese news incited by popular dailies.

Large Scale of Political Power

It must be noted here that the author of the report Liu Zhuming and I share a common awareness that mass media in China and Japan have been deeply involved in the cooling of bilateral relations since the mid-1990’s. Since 1999, we have joined hands and set up a virtual research group named “Japan-China Communication Group(?)” (JCC) in cyberspace, inviting researchers and media representatives in both countries to participate to deliberate on issues that the media in the two countries must address. As studies accumulated, I have felt that issues in the Chinese media is closely related to the political situation in the country, so long as it is under the control of the Communist Part and the government and that bilateral political relations are closely involved as well. In other words, the media is largely affected by bilateral relations or oversight policy, notwithstanding the fact that it wields huge influence on escalating or appeasing friction between the two countries. Argument directed toward issues pertaining to the media and focused on media improvement measures is moot because of the limitations of their impact. Of course, the argument itself is a product of media research, and research in this area is not wasteful. What can be said in this area is that media research alone had not been able to provide a persuasive suggestion and is disappointingly ineffective in addressing relations between China and Japan that have aggravated with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine repeated with virtually no official statement or explanation.

Abe-Hu Jintao Meeting Expected To Become a Turning Point in China-Japan Media Coverage

Under these circumstances, the new Prime Minister Shinichiro Abe chose China for his first official visit, taking steps to improve Chinese relations. Once relations began to warm, the negative reporting in China will no doubt move slowly toward neutrality and possibly into positive coverage. This is easily imaginable from Liu Zhiming’ report, which stated that “in Japanese news, news stories on exchange with China accounted for 15%, or 10 stories, which is the lowest when compared with those in the US and Russia. This reflects the strained relations between the two countries, in which top-level diplomacy has been suspended.”

An additional point that must be noted in this meeting is that Chinese President Hu Jintao stated that “China welcomes Japan continuing to pursue the path of a pacifist nation and to play a constructive role in addressing the problems of the region and the international community.” Although this has not been reported prominently in Japanese newspapers, this has been featured clearly in Chinese dailies. this means that the controversy over Japan’s past history of aggression that “apology is inadequate” or “there is no need to apologize again and again” has moved to a higher dimension of relationship with the recent visit of the current prime minister, aimed at establishing “relations that benefit each other strategically” and at recognizing each other’s approach in nationbuilding as the point of departure in bilateral relations. This may mean that future media coverage of each other, especially Chinese media’s reports on Japan that are significantly influenced by the government, may turn actively to reporting on the current state of Japan, possibly suggesting that media reporting on peaceful nationbuilding will grow. Since the Abe visit, there has been noticeable improvement in Japan-related reports. Media coverage on the Japanese side has also shown growth in positive reporting, such as the Chinese President moving forward to improve relations with Japan as part of the country’s diplomatic policy of cooperation and coordination with the international community, thus resulting in mutual improvement of national image.

From Propaganda to Communication

At present, China focuses on economic development as its national policy and is working on building closer cooperation with the international community, to gain the opportunity for globalization. For this purpose, improving the Chinese image is a major issue. If it were to adopt the conventional approach, the alternative to boosting its image would have been propaganda. Recently, however, the country has adopted the approach of external communication, without the use of the term propaganda. Unilateral drive to promote a good image of China will not necessarily be accepted. Rather, the country has chosen to promote closer exchange an increase in bilateral flow of information. To do this, the nation must encourage Chinese media to expand into other countries and actively accept foreign media to report on current conditions in China. In face of the upcoming Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Beijing, the Chinese government has recently scrapped its requirement that foreign journalists submit an advance report to relevant government organizations, if engaging in news gathering or reporting in the country. Although there is no telling how freely foreign journalists will be able to operate in China, this must be recognized as the first step toward amelioration of control.

The Other Hope: Change in Chinese Television

Recently, representatives of Chinese TV stations in Beijing, Guangdong, Shandong, Sichuan, Hunan, Dalian and other regions of China were invited to a symposium in Japan, organized with full cooperation of JCC, and reported on the current state of television media in various regions, media reports on Japan and programming related to Japan. A noticeable characteristic of these reports was the rise in commercialism, competition, entertainment and cosmopolitan outlook in the Chinese TV industry.

With wider dissemination of satellite and wired broadcasting an increase in the number of TV channels, Chinese households in urban areas are able to receive TV broadcasting from 40 to 70 channels. However, the system does not allow Chinese households in general to receive foreign broadcasting, except in hotels and residential units catering to foreign nationals. Commonly, there are roughly 10 channels provided by CCTV, 10 from provincial TV stations and 10 from local city TV stations. Other provinces and special cities have other TV channel allocations. As a result, competition among TV channels remain small in scale, since it excludes foreign TV stations and TV stations from other regions, dust posing the question off the quality of programming and broadcasting. The greatest problem for Chinese TV stations is the lack of quality broadcasting content. With the growing influx of world-class television technology into China at the same time, local TV stations are working on upgrading their competitiveness through international exchange with foreign TV stations, in face of impending full-scale competition and introduction of foreign TV capital. Television stations in Guangdong, Guǎngxī Zhuàngzú zìzhìqū, and other regions close to Southeast Asia are reportedly engaging actively in exchange with TV stations in neighboring countries.

In view of the developments reported, the pace of globalization of Chinese TV is likely to be affected in the long term by the speed of reform in the TV media. Attention is on how the Chinese authorities will act on reform and internationalization of the TV media in order to improve the country’s image to the rest of the world.

The Importance of TV Industry Exchange

Liu Zhuming’s report has also referred time and again to data that shows increase in exchange with Japanese TV stations, reflecting the momentum growing in Chinese foreign-policy and globalization of its TV industry, as well as to the significance of this growth.

“It is clear that the Japan issue diminished in attention in CCTV’s new specials in 2006.” “Broadcast of “Project X” in China provided information that was beneficial for Chinese understanding of Japan and the Japanese.” Although the wish of the Chinese government was behind the broadcast, it was also actively supported by the Japanese, including the Keizai Koho Center (KKC). After the turn of the century, there was virtually no Japanese drama that attracted attention in China. In fact, Korean drama drew immense popularity, triggering the so-called “Korean style” boom. Conditions have changed in 2006. Fuji TV’s “White Tower” began broadcast on CCTV from March 18.”

“Encouraged by its success, TV insiders reportedly are planning to introduce more Japanese drama in the future.”

Keidanren’s Keizai Koho Center (KKC) that appears in the Liu report has provided sponsorship to the symposium organized with JCC cooperation and has cooperated in mutual exchange in the private sector, especially in the media industry, during the past several years despite the law relations between the two countries, and contributed to the broadcast the Project X program in China. Because of the shortage in television content, supply of such quality programming appears to be well-received by the Chinese. In broadcast of drama series, there is much room for cooperation as well, although there are problems that need to be addressed in broadcasting practice, with Japan broadcasting series on a weekly basis while China broadcast drama series on consecutive nights. It is easy to understand that “insiders believe that a third Japanese drama boom is imminent,” as Liu reports.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, China’s political regime and media reform have yet to keep up with the tempo of economic reform, and, in international broadcasting, the media has yet to extricate itself from its function as a propaganda tool. The Chinese media, especially television, has not yet achieved an adequate level of commercialism and globalism. For this reason, media coverage of Japan and other countries face a variety of restrictions and is lacking in precision as a result. In correspondence with this, the image of China in other countries is also lacking in accuracy. This is also impeding further growth of market economy and advances in globalization.

Notwithstanding, improvement of relations with Japan and transition in national policy is needed for the current Chinese government under President Hu, for which transition into peaceful development and foreign policy based on cooperation is a major issue. Media reform must also be promoted alongside such efforts.

Kiyoshi Takai

Professor, Graduate School of International Media and Communication, Hokkaido University

Kiyoshi Takai is a Professor at Graduate School of International Media Communications, Hokkaido University since 1999. He joined the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1972 with a B.A. in Chinese Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. As a journalist, he was an overseas reporter in Tehran, Shanghai, and Beijing before he was an editorialist. His publications include "Chinese Nationalism and Media Analysis" (Akashi Shoten, 2005), "60 Chapters to know Contemporary China" (Akashi Shoten, 2003), "Reading of China Reports" (Iwanami Shoten, 2002), "Reading of the 21st. Century China" (Soso-sha, 1999), "Reading of China Information" (Soso-sha 1996), and "Shanghai, a Reviving City of Liberty" (Yomiuri Shimbun, 1993).

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