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Foreign, private investors to be allowed in

Listen to the original broadcast in Mandarin

The authorities in Beijing have completed new regulations governing China's media industry, RFA's Mandarin service reports. Under the new rules, private and foreign investors will be allowed into the print publication sector.

"When you enter the market, you need to appeal to the reader, and to those who pay the bills," Beijing media industry analyst Liu Xiaobo told RFA. "So you must adapt to the taste of the audience."

Liu said that the taste of Chinese audiences for better-quality entertainment had long ago begun to make an impact on Chinese publications and electronic media, which were once dull litanies of government meetings and production figures.

But he said Chinese audiences also craved another service from the media: "The other thing, which China is most short of, is really good reporting, and analysis of current events."

Under the new regulations, which were triggered by China's commitments under its membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), foreign and non-government investors may take stakes of up to 40 percent in print publications and are allowed to participate in distribution and management of media organizations.

However, Chinese journalists say that editorial policy is unlikely to be affected by the new rules, and if change comes to China's media, it won't come soon.

Liu said the upper limit of 40 percent on non-government stakeholders represented an attempt to preserve editorial control in spite of ownership changes.

"On the one hand [they] want to preserve the main current of ideology, and at the same time get rid of the financial and economic burden," he said.

However, media commentators in Hong Kong say the reform could be as important as the breaking of the iron rice bowl, and the development of financial markets.

According to a commentary in the Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong, the move could spell the beginning of supervision of the media by the public itself. This argument suggests that market forces will eliminate colorless official propaganda machines in favor of publications that cover news stories people care about.

The government has already urged the media to get closer to the issues that matter to ordinary people in real life, and many important corruption scandals have been revealed with the help of domestic reporting.

Leaders at the highest levels in Beijing are painfully aware that the loosening of centralized economic planning and state control at every level of Chinese society has resulted in widespread hardship, corruption, and exploitation for many peasants and workers, the Communist Party's traditional power base.

They are racing against time to solve these problems before popular unrest--now widespread but isolated--gets out of control.

The media are seen as a valuable pressure gauge through which grievances may be aired, especially where local corruption and vested interests prevent the use of formal mechanisms for obtaining justice.

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