中国数字时代: 胡泳 | China: Digital Evolution

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胡泳 | China: Digital Evolution
Aug 18th 2013, 12:15, by Chinese Netizens


China: Digital

by Rebecca MacKinnon on 2012/11/20


The Chinese Communist Party may have completed
its once-in-a-decade leadership transition, but the future of media in China
remains as unclear as the rest of China's political and economic future.

Since Xi
Jinping was anointed as China's top leader last week, a close reading of the
freshly-brewed political tea leaves favors gradual, messy evolution over any
sudden Internet-led revolution. Those who prefer to read research reports
instead of tea leaves will draw similar conclusions after reading OSF's
recently-published Mapping Digital Media China
 - even though it was completed well before the
leadership transition. According to the report's authors, the emergence over
the past decade of a "vibrant online civil society" in China provides grounds
for optimism in the long run. Yet this vibrant online world will continue to
coexist with a "sophisticated party-state propaganda and control system" whose
grip on broadcast media, licensing of digital services, spectrum allocation, and
professional news content production shows few signs of loosening.

analysis of last week's 18th Communist Party Conference indicates an intention
to maintain as firm a grip as possible. In a thorough examination of
the of the new CCP Standing Committee, Cheng
Li, a scholar of Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington
DC, pointed out that key liberals in the Politburo, particularly Li  Yuanchao who
is known to support liberal intellectual demands for rule of law and greater
government accountability, were not promoted to the Standing Committee as
expected. Cheng concludes that "China's much-needed political reform may be
delayed."  And without political reform, meaningful media reform is

proponents of free expression and media reform are also disheartened by the
elevation of Liu Yunshan, head of the propaganda department, known as a
faithful enforcer of party discipline on the media. His efforts to bring the
Internet to heel have included a licensing system for online service providers
and a requirement that microbloggers register their accounts with their real
names and ID numbers. As dissident writer and former journalist Dai Qing
recently lamented to the South China
Morning Post
, a Hong Kong-based newspaper: "Liu's appointment
has reduced our hopes that citizens will be allowed to monitor their government
and spread information freely over the next decade."

Yet online
social media – particularly the home-grown microblogging services known in
Chinese as "weibo" –  are 
nonetheless forcing more
transparency and accountability upon Chinese bureaucrats and news media.
Despite strict controls on news media coverage of the party congress, combined
withelaborate attempts by social media companies to block the
most edgy words and phrases from their services, netizens nonetheless managed
analyze and criticize the proceedings on
Sina Weibo, the most popular of China's Twitter-like social media platforms.
Government offices at all levels now recognize the need to engage with the
public on weibo: According to the state-run
Xinhua News Agency
were over 51,000 government micro-blog accounts by the end of September. 

The authors
of the  is still beyond the reach of 800 million Chinese who rely almost exclusively on
television for their information and entertainment, in particular the mammoth
state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV)." 

China's news organizations – particularly the
 more commercially-oriented ones serving local and regional markets – like
news organizations everywhere, are working hard to innovate through creative
use of digital technologies. However their ability to conduct independent
investigative journalism, and actually publish or broadcast these
investigations in their newspapers or on television, is severely constrained by
strong party and government controls. Individual journalists have been able to
use blogs and microblogs as an alternative distribution channel for some news
and information, though the result is that news organizations do not directly
benefit from their staff's most cutting-edge investigative talents. Meanwhile,
websites that are not part of government-approved news organizations are not
allowed to conduct original news reporting – although online media companies
are constantly seeking ways to subtly get around the strict rules about who can
report news under what circumstances, particularly on local stories.

When it comes to television – which remains
the most important and powerful form of media for the majority of Chinese – the
government naturally controls the switchover process from analog signal to
digital. It also controls which companies are allowed to participate in the
provision of bundled internet, voice, and digital TV services – as well as who
is allowed to create what sorts of content disseminated through these services.
The same of course goes for mobile services of all kinds. When it comes to
allocation of spectrum, politics "plays a decisive role in spectrum allocation
policies." There is no notion of "public service media" independent of party
and state which "view themselves as the overseers of the public interest." Yet
there is no process by which the bureaucracy – often a patchwork of different
agencies and departments – determines the broader public interest as they go
about creating and enforcing rules and regulations.

The report makes a number of

- Media literacy. With "hundreds of millions
of people with little knowledge or understanding of how the media are used and
how they might use the media," greater media literacy education for all ages
would "help educate people to participate in public life so that the
opportunities which digitization brings can be more widely enjoyed."

- Relaxation of government and party controls
on media. This would make it more possible for journalists to carry out
independent, investigative journalism that would hold authorities accountable
to the public interest.

- Constrain local government abuse of power
over media. The central government should take "measures to end the pattern of
violent retribution, harassment and victimization meted out to journalists or
whistleblowers by local offcials angered by critical media coverage."

- Passage of a press law. This would be
consistent with existing national policy of governance based on rule of law. A
specific press law "can help prohibit administrative control and interference
in the media."

- Official tolerance and support for press
freedom organizations. Such organizations would "defend press freedom and the
independence of media from the government and help address a crisis of ethics
in the profession."

- Independent public service media. A
"non-commercial, non-profit, public radio and television system" would help to
"guarantee the dissemination of education, science, health, and other content
to feed an information-hungry populace."

- Better coordination and stakeholder
collaboration on the digital switch-over process. There is currently no clear
process for mediating different bureaucratic, economic, commercial, and public
interests. The report argues that "there should be the means for collaboration
between industry players, especially broadcasting companies and mobile
operators. Close collaboration between the principal stakeholders— the
government, regulators, broadcasters, transmission providers, receiver
manufacturers and retailers, and consumer representatives—is essential."

The results of this month's leadership
transition provide little reason to expect that these things will happen in the
near or even medium term. In the long run, however, the report's authors remain
hopeful. The internet, they write, "cannot change China's political life in a
dramatic way. It can, however, enhance the existing social capital, so that
social forces that are operating independently of the state can have a chance
to grow and prosper."






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