China profile - Media

  • 23 November 2015
  • 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 describes China as "the world's biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents".

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. Content that is contrary to Communist Party rhetoric is, however, subject to filtering, and English-language websites like the BBC are censored in mainland China during sensitive times, like the October 2014 Hong Kong protests.

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 418 million households and the sector is competitive, especially in cities. There were more than 3,300 local, regional and national TV channels by 2013.

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 648 million internet users at the end of 2014 (China Internet Network Information Centre, CNNIC), China has the world's largest net-using population. Mobile platforms are the main means of online access.

to CNNIC data for 2014, a big proportion of web users access the internet for instant messaging (89.3%), followed by online searches (80.3%) and news (79.6%).

The online sector is increasingly controlled by three powerful players. Tencent dominates online gaming; Baidu is the top search engine; and e-commerce leader Alibaba has formed an alliance with Sina, which operates the main Weibo microblog platform.

Social network use has tailed off. There were 257 million users by mid-2014, a drop of 7.4 per cent over six months.

Because of government curbs, Weibo is losing some of its appeal as a forum where relatively uncensored news and information can be shared.

WeChat, Tencent's take on the WhatsApp instant messenger, had more than 438 million registered users by mid-2014. Many of them are former Weibo users.

Video-streaming platforms, including 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", is one of the "most technologically-advanced in existence", according to Reporters Without Borders. It blocks tens of thousands of sites using URL filtering and keyword censoring.

Thousands of cyber-police watch the web. Internet cafes are closely monitored. Filtering targets material deemed politically and socially sensitive. Blocked resources include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and human rights sites.

Reporters Without Borders classifies China as an "Enemy of the Internet" (2014).




News agency