Two separate examples of the media issuing an apology, in cases that quickly became a hot topic of discussion online, have served to highlight the ideological debate taking place in China ahead of the 18th National Congress later this year.
Recently, the official Beijing Daily ran a commentary arguing that issues such as social instability and food insecurity were being exaggerated by the media, risking public panic. The paper added that the media had forgotten the values of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Guangdong-based Time Weekly interviewed a number of analysts who lashed out at the commentary, arguing that reporting the truth is the media’s responsibility. Soon after, though, the president of Time Weekly reportedly headed to Beijing to apologize, adding that the outlet would deal strictly with the journalists involved in producing the story.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
On the same day of this apology, QQ.com – a popular Chinese Internet network – also issued an apology to the nationalist Global Times, which had published a commentary discussing corruption in China and asking for understanding among the public over the difficulty in eradicating the problem. QQ.com reproduced the article, but the title was edited in a way that suggested that China knows corruption can’t be eliminated.
The Global Times protested, prompting an apology from QQ.com. But many netizens argued that QQ.com had nothing to apologize for. Indeed, a number of other news agencies including the China Youth Daily and major news portal rednet.cn, published editorials expressing their unhappiness with Global Times.
Ahead of the party congress this year, which will see a change in the country’s top leadership, there’s noticeable dissatisfaction among the public, which has implications for media coverage. But while this is nothing new, this year the mood feels a little different as hopes persist both at home and abroad that this leadership transition will herald the start of greater political reform, a bigger drive against corruption and more media freedom.
Pushing against this, though, is the belief that once restrictions and “social control” are loosened, Communist Party unity could crumble. With this in mind, then, it’s hardly surprising that official outlets such as Beijing Daily have been publishing commentary warning over the media’s social responsibilities. Similarly, Time Weekly and QQ.com incidents reflect, to a degree, views that run contrary to what senior officials are saying in public.
If nothing else, the two incidents have offered the people the chance to better appreciate the importance of the media in helping understand society. And despite their apologies and backtracking, Time Weekly and QQ have done a very good job not only of drawing attention to some important issues, but also of shining a light on the progress (and otherwise) of the Chinese media landscape.