Despite the efforts of President Xi Jinping to control public discourse in China ever more tightly, the media ecosystem in China is diverse and contentious, with companies such as Alibaba and Tencent expanding their presence on the internet, JMSC director Ying Chan has told a conference on the governance of China.
The ‘most exciting, most volatile and most contentious’ set of media contributors today are non-party organisations, including major internet companies such as Alibaba, Tencent and Sina. ‘They’re not supposed to do news, but they do,’ Professor Chan said.
‘We are naturally very concerned with control, with censorship … in the debate, most of the attention has been focused on control, and rightly so, but let us not forget about the market and technology,’ she said. ‘If you look at the system holistically, we do have some hope … things have been changing, ownership has been evolving.’
Professor Chan listed other companies and websites that have, at least partially, evaded Communist Party control. Outlets such as Caixin Media, Nanfang Media Group and Shanghai Media Group still have ‘some DNA of the Party’, but are market-orientated, she said. China Dialogue, news aggregation sites such as Today’s News, and international organisations that publish inside China, also contribute to the media landscape.
Other speakers on the conference’s seven panels included participants from Hong Kong, mainland China, the US and Europe, with topics of discussion including China’s economic system, civil society and legal and constitutional reform.
Professor Chan’s comments came at the International Conference on the Governance of China, where she and David Bandurski, editor of the JMSC’s China Media Project, spoke and chaired panels. The conference, on 15 and 16 January, was held at The University of Hong Kong and organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences and The New York Review of Books Foundation.
Professor Chan said it is still too soon to say who is coming out on top in the contest between state-controlled and private media. She was optimistic, at least, about the situation in Hong Kong. ‘As long as this kind of robust discussion can continue [in Hong Kong],’ she said, ‘we can remain optimistic, cautious and hopeful.’
Full details of the conference and videos of all the sessions can be found here.