This thesis looks into the changing role of the media in China since the initiation of economic reforms in 1978. The media setting has become increasingly complex since due to changes in ownership-structure, the emergence of advertising, and increasing private and foreign investment in the sector. The media situation in China is difficult to categorize, as neither western theories based on liberal thought, nor communist theories, are seen fit for the current socio-political and economic situation in China. China is special, with policies based on a communist political system, but with an economy moulded by capitalist ideas and age old Confucian precepts. On the one hand, the media has to abide by its traditional obligations to the Chinese Communist Party and the Government. On the other hand, it responds to the needs of an increasingly capitalist market. Finally, the media is also defined by its relationship with the general public. However, since the Chinese system is historically unique, there is as yet no consensus as to what the media’s role should be.
This thesis focuses on the current outlook of the Chinese media. The analysis rests primarily on empirical data from two major events that invoked massive media coverage – the Shanghai 2010 World Expo and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize – and interviews/conversations with Chinese media professionals. The investigation reveals that there is no sense of separation between the media and the Chinese Government in the Chinese mindset. It becomes apparent that when it comes to ‘positive reporting’ or ‘positive news’, the media serves its purpose impartially of informing the public, the government and the market. However, in the case of politically sensitive information the public is excluded. According to the empirical data presented in this thesis it is fair to state that most Chinese are satisfied with the existing system, including the media. Behind this impression it is also clear that there is considerable diversity in terms of how different socio-economic groups relate to the media. The Chinese Government is bound to become more adaptable, but only to the extent where they still control and own the majority of Chinese media. The media in China today plays several roles; while they carry out the Party’s policies, report world news and entertain, at the same time they try to serve as checks for the Government, and a few are trying to set the agenda for future reforms and changes in Chinese society. The media is likely to continue to change and challenge the status quo, and with the internet the Government will continue to be challenged by the public for information.