China’s Media - the Government’s Mouthpiece?

At the Global Media Forum high-ranking media experts from China, Germany and the US discussed the role of media between state-run PR, propaganda, and international relations. The debate became controversial when the question rose whether public diplomacy and propaganda can be distinguished in China.

Robert Bosch Stiftung | June 2016

The obstacles for reporting from countries run by authoritarian regimes and areas torn apart by civil war, the way the media handles the topics of refugees and migration, and the ongoing digitization in the media sector - the challenges for international journalism are many and various. At this year’s Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF), which took place from June 13 to 15, more than 2,000 participants from all over the world discussed these challenges. The overarching theme of the forum: "Media. Freedom. Values."

The Robert Bosch Stiftung supports the conference, which is the largest forum for journalists and media representatives worldwide. The alumni association of the journalist exchange program Media Ambassadors China-Germany, the Deutsche-Chinesische Mediennetzwerk e.V., organized the panel discussion on "The Role, Influence and Power of the Media in Public Diplomacy. Chinese and Western Perspectives."

"Doing Media in China is not easy"

China’s media has been officially bound to act as the "throat and tongue" - and therefore as the voice - of the ruling party since the founding of the People’s Republic. In view of this, the panel opened with a discussion on whether the terms "public diplomacy" and "external propaganda" could overlap in any way in the case of China, and what role Chinese state media plays as an organ of public diplomacy for the Communist Party.

Zhang Yong stressed that the People’s Daily obviously toed the party line, but that it first and foremost served the people and there were bound to be points of conflict. This means that it is in no way easy to get information from government agencies about politically sensitive incidents. At the same time, Zhang pointed out that western media paints far too grim a picture of China’s image and it is rare that there is a focus on the positive advancements and achievements of the country.

Libby Liu and Jim Laurie countered that there is a general tendency toward negative reporting these days and that this is simply part and parcel of the business - China’s case is no different from that of other countries. Consumers in the US, for example, are increasingly interested in headlines and less in real news, says Liu.

In response to the question from Anna Marohn, who asked what future the Chinese media faces in general and as an instrument of public diplomacy, Zhang resumed: "Doing media in China is not easy, but China is constantly in a process of moving forward. It will take time to do a better job in public diplomacy, but I am cautiously optimistic."

Professor Shi Anbin added that China’s current public diplomacy strategy presents too much of a one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all charm offensive that would have to be adapted more closely to different countries in the future, in order to have a positive effect in Europe and the West.

Watch the complete Panel