Asia

China profile - Media

  • 26 April 2016
  • From the section Asia

China is the largest media market in the world, and has the world's largest online population.

Outlets operate under tight Communist Party control. The opening-up of the industry has extended to distribution and advertising, not to editorial content. However, there is leeway for independent coverage that is not perceived as a threat to social stability or the Party.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption China uses sophisticated technology to control and monitor what content internet users can access

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has described China as the world's biggest prison for journalists and online dissidents.

The Communist Party has taken repression "to new heights", the group said in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index. "Journalists were spared nothing, not even abductions, televised forced confessions and threats to relatives."

Beijing tries to limit access to foreign news by restricting rebroadcasting and the use of satellite receivers, by jamming shortwave broadcasts, including those of the BBC, and by blocking websites.

Overseas Chinese-language news outlets that are not state-owned are blocked in mainland China. However, international English language websites like the BBC are often available to view. But content that is contrary to Communist Party rhetoric is filtered and English-language news sites can be filtered at times of tension.

Fears that the media in Hong Kong would lose their independence when the territory reverted to Chinese control in 1997 have generally not been borne out. Hong Kong still has editorially-dynamic media, but worries about interference remain.

TV is available in most homes and the sector is competitive, especially in cities. There are more than 3,300 local, regional and national TV channels.

State-run Chinese Central TV (CCTV) is China's largest media company. Its dominance is challenged by provincial TVs, which are on the air nationally via satellite. China is a major market for pay TV, which is almost entirely delivered by cable. All of China's 2,600-plus radio stations are state-owned.

There are around 1,900 newspapers. Each city has its own title, usually published by the local government, as well as a local Communist Party daily.

China spends hugely on TV, radio, online and press outlets targeted at international audiences, aiming to extend its political influence and boost its image. It is less keen to allow foreign players into the domestic market.

Phenomenal online growth

With 668 million internet users at the end of 2015 (China Internet Network Information Centre, CNNIC), China has the world's largest net-using population.

The CNNIC says 89 per cent of online Chinese have access to the internet via a smartphone.

There are three powerful online giants. Tencent dominates online gaming; Baidu is the top search engine; and e-commerce leader Alibaba has allied with Sina, which operates the top Weibo microblog platform.

Because of official censorship, Weibo is losing some of its appeal as a forum where relatively uncensored news can be shared.

WeChat, Tencent's take on the WhatsApp instant messenger, claimed to have more than 650 million monthly active users by late 2015, making it the most popular social media platform in China.

Video-streaming platforms, including Alibaba's Youku Tudou and Sohu, have a large following and pose a challenge to traditional TV.

An extensive web filtering system, dubbed the "Great Firewall of China", blocks tens of thousands of sites using URL filtering and keyword censoring.

Thousands of cyber-police watch the web and material deemed politically and socially sensitive is filtered. Blocked resources include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and human rights sites.

The use of circumvention tools, including virtual private networks (VPNs), became harder after China strengthened its firewall to allow it to intercept data traffic to and from individual IP addresses. This was coined the "Great Fire Cannon" when it came into effect in 2015.

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