THIS WEEK the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released its latest blue book on the development of new media in the country, with special research chapters on topics ranging from notable trends such as live-stream broadcasts and media convergence, to more specialized topics like the use of emoticons by Chinese university students.
From the outset, the report strikes a familiar balance between sanguine assessment of the economic and political opportunities presented by media development, and the attendant risks.
The report’s abstract begins by crediting the “Internet Plus” strategy announced by Premier Li Keqiang in 2015 — the idea that China can use “the unprecedented new technological revolution” of the internet to push economic transformation — with driving forward the process of informatization. It notes that China’s influence on global internet governance is expanding, and that it is “growing from a big internet nation into a strong internet power.”
Among the key problems, the report notes that “the entire world faces threats to the security of online space,” and that “financial risks on the internet have grown more frequent.” Finally, in what could be read as a warning to those companies offering online services, the report says “ethical problems in new media communication must be urgently regulated, and the social responsibilities of internet companies must be urgently increased.” (Interestingly, the official English translation of this section of the abstract is less direct, noting that ethical problems “have to be discussed.”)
One of the report’s statistical highlights is the dramatic growth in users of live-stream broadcasting services in China, which reached 344 million by December 2016 (47.1 percent of total internet users). The report estimates that by 2020, live-stream broadcasting in China will be a 100 billion RMB industry.
Over the past year, however, China has launched a sustained crackdown on internet services, including live-streaming. In September last year, the State Administration of Press Publications Radio Film and Television (SAPPRFT), one of the country’s key content regulators, pledged to strengthen oversight of live-streaming. Last week the agency went beyond that promise, ordering the shutdown of live-stream broadcasts on a number of platforms, including the Nasdaq-listed Weibo.
Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, media control and development must always go hand in hand, and some of the development’s outlined in this latest report on media development in the country may be moderated by developments on the control side.