February 6 — In more bad press for China’s news media, on the heels of international coverage of the Lan Chengzhang story and media corruption in China, the ongoing session of the Guangdong provincial People’s Congress said the media bore partial responsibility for food safety concerns. [BELOW: Screen capture of yesterday’s Southcn.com coverage of the Guangdong provincial People’s Congress, headline on food safety and media circled in red.]
“‘Food insomnia’: media sensationalism bears some responsibility”, read the headline of a report featured yesterday on the front page of Web portal Southcn.com, and referring to an ailment rumored in the media to be caused by unsafe food products.
The report quoted one official, Su Yixiang (苏宜香), as saying: “As for news reports on food safety, they must be scientific and show a strict professionalism, otherwise they will mislead consumers and affect the stability of society”.
Su reiterated that media bore a definite degree of responsibility for food safety crises in China.
There has been a surge in reporting on food safety in China in recent years, and reports have varied in reliability. But the media’s excesses in reporting on the topic in fact underscore deeper institutional problems facing media in China, which have been contorted by a combination of commercialization and crippling state censorship.
Media commercialization, which has intensified since government funding was progressively pulled in the 1990s, has media scrambling for audiences and advertising revenue. While building up circulation depends on stories with direct relevance to the readership, however, the party’s strangehold on reliable public information slams the door to professional news coverage. Consumer-related stories about such topics as food safety occupy a safe and commercially viable middle-ground between official taboo and official propaganda.
“The media do build these stories up”, said Qian Gang, director of the China Media Project. “But control of the media often leaves them with few other options. Government controls limit the kinds of journalism that can be done”.
[Posted by David Bandurski, February 6, 2007, 11:17am]