The future of media in China - from the grassroots to the professional - has been a big topic at Hong Kong U over the past couple of weeks. My hard-working students videotaped recent talks given here by Isaac Mao and Michael Anti. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the videos on Google Video.
Key points of Isaac's talk:
- There are blockages to free thinking in China, due to various things: educational system, propaganda, and also "Stockholm syndrome" (in which the prisoner identifies with and sympathizes with the captors).
- He outlines the different "models" of thinking in China: 90% of people are "silent", 7% are "defensive," 1% are "functional" (i.e., self-promotional), 1% "aggressive" and only about 0.5% "free."
- Blogging is a learning tool. "Learning is about sharing." As people keep blogging they become more connected and develop trust between one another - something that has been badly lacking in Chinese society.
- Real trust makes it easier for people to collaborate and work together. Lack of trust has prevented people in China from working together on projects. He points to grassroots charity and NGO networks that have grown up around blogs, focused on things like poverty alleviation. Also networks of educators, professionals, etc., who share information about how to do their work better.
- Trusted networks are also very fast in spreading information because people believe information coming from people they trust. (Unlike government controlled media which is generally not so trusted.) "Messages spread quickly through flat networks."
- Information is able to route around censorship and blockages via trusted social networks. Within 3-5 years there may be a "total system to make the Great Firewall useless."
- Example of how many people trusted Zola the blogger on the nailhouse story more than they did other media sources.
- The priority now is to help people help themselves constructively through technical means, not political means. (Obvious reason: overt political activism is not feasible.)
Key points of Anti's talk (Watch the beginning of the video for an animated oral autobiography.):
- Professionalism, and fact-based "American style" journalism is the best hope for Chinese journalists. Traditional Chinese journalism has been more "European style," which mixes facts, feeling, and opinion. But the latter is more likely to get mixed up with propaganda, or to be perceived as dangerously political if it diverges too much from the line. Reporting that sticks closely to the facts and which is heavily fact checked, with strong devotion to factual accuracy is much easier to defend against censors and party secretaries. There is a great deal of support in the government for fact-based, "objective" journalism. He gives three detailed case studies to prove his point.
- Blogging and journalism: For professional journalists, we're starting to see a division of the medium. They do their fact-based professional work for their news organizations, then put their opinions on their blogs.
- He thinks there is an emerging consensus among Chinese journalists: 1. the propaganda department is bad; 2. legal rights are good, 3. journalists need to be professional, not indignant.
- The result of this consensus is the emergence of a sense of self-identification amongst Chinese journalists, and the potential for the emergence of a real community.
- Media controls have grown tighter in the Hu Jintao era, as compared to the Jiang Zemin era, but you can't say there is less freedom overall, thanks to the internet. Also, the core of people who work in China's media are liberal, despite "1984 style media control."
- Key quote: "The problem is not Chinese journalists, it's the control system." Many are talented and committed to professionalism and just need opportunities to show their talents.
- However: journalism in China is not what will change Chinese politics.
- "Journalists won't be the founders of a New China." That task will be left to politicians and political activists. It's a misconception to think that the improvement of Chinese journalism is the key to Chinese political change.
- Another great quote: "Bloggging didn't change China much, but changed the people much." Same with cell phones. He also points out that technology is not inherently liberal and people make the mistake of assuming it is.
Here is Part I of Isaac's talk:
And here is Part 2:
Here is Michael Anti: