Despite extensive domestic controls, the Internet and global media are forcing Chinese leaders to contend with freer flows of information, said Joseph Weber, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism professor who has taught in China.
Weber and Shantou University journalism lecturer Linjun Fan surveyed 126 Chinese journalism students in 2013. The survey’s results were published in the February issue of Human Rights Quarterly, a publication of Johns Hopkins University Press.
Chinese journalism students aspire to a media career despite the pressures of government oversight and censorship. What do they think about press freedom in China?
Chinese journalism students put more credence in Western media than in Chinese media. Nearly 49 percent said they believed most of what they read in Chinese state-owned media; while 77 percent said they believed most of what they read in western-owned media. Less than 10 percent said more is true in the Chinese media than in foreign media and nearly half said foreign media contains more truth than the Chinese media.
However, they think both Chinese and foreign media are trying to sway public opinions. Nearly 92 percent said the Chinese media seeks to shape public opinion; while 89 percent say that about foreign opinion.
The students think the Chinese media are too kind to China — but they also think the foreign media are too critical. More than 87 percent said the Chinese media was not critical enough of China, but 60 percent said the western media was too hard on their country.
Both domestic and foreign media fall short on fairness, balance and thoroughness in their news coverage, in students’ view. Nearly 91 percent said foreign media is not fair, balanced and thorough and 87 percent said Chinese media is not fair, balanced and thorough.
Journalism students are resigned to continuing press censorship by the Chinese government. More than 61 percent expect censorship will remain part of China’s media future, and nearly half expect a further clampdown in the future. However, the students also believe the government should allow the press more freedom, with 75 percent of those surveyed reporting that censorship should be reduced.
Nearly 80 percent of the students said journalists should not join China’s Communist party. But, 46 percent of those surveyed said they planned to join with 27 percent reporting that they were already members.
Weber and Fan acknowledge limitations of their survey. The students were recruited to participate by professors at eight schools in six Chinese provinces. They included both graduate and undergraduate students. Most were female, reflecting a gender imbalance common in Chinese journalism programs. Advertising, communications and broadcasting majors were included in the mix. More than 78 percent of the respondents said they planned to work in the media.
Weber said the voluntary survey might contain a selection bias because it may have drawn students with strong feelings about journalism in China. Because the number of respondents was relatively small and not all students answered all questions, it has a margin of error that may approach 10 percent.
“Skepticism about the reliability of Chinese media versus that of the west may be troubling to authorities and practicing journalists alike,” Weber and his co-author noted. “The substantial hostility among the students to censorship suggests that calls for more openness in the media could grow. As news and information from the west and from within China grows more available, particularly through online channels, the need for credible and freer media in China may grow, as well.”