In most liberal democracies commercialized media is taken for granted, but in many authoritarian regimes the introduction of market forces in media represents a radical break from the past with uncertain political and social implications. I argue that the consequences of media marketization depend on the institutional design of the state. In one-party regimes, such as China, market-based media promote regime stability, rather than destabilize authoritarianism or bring about democracy.
The Chinese state is able to retain one-sided political messages in the news via the interaction between institutions and the market. Yet at the same time, media marketization makes a great difference to audiences. Chinese seek out and believe market-based media that appear credible in the eyes of audiences. A comparison with over thirty countries reveals that market forces are unlikely to undermine the rule of the Chinese Communist Party in the near future.
Political commercials did not exist in China until only recently. During the reform era the Chinese state has modernized the way in which politics is communicated to citizens. Today, the government focuses on public service advertising on television to actively shape people‘s attitudes and behavior on such issues as environmental protection and legal reform. More broadly, political advertising is aimed at holding an increasingly diverse and fragmented society together. Funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) this joint research project with Liu Linqing and Zhang Jie (Communication University of China), Stefan Landsberger (Leiden University), and Ashley Esarey (Whitman College) relies on multiple methods to study the policy rationale behind political advertising, its production and content, as well as its societal effects. As the first systematic study of the trend towards political commercials in the Chinese media this research contributes to our understanding of the relationship between the Chinese state and society and the nature of political communication in an authoritarian context. The latest publication on “Advertising Politics” is available here.
In the past two decades governments have created new opportunities for citizens to deliberate with policy-makers about public policy. This his trend towards deliberative forms of governance is not only confined to liberal democracies. Recently, the Chinese government has also experimented with the devolution of power to citizens for collective decision-making. State institutions frequently organize public discussions between citizens, policy-makers, and administrators. However, in China political elites view participatory forms of governance as a means to legitimize political decisions rather than as a mechanism for democratization. When an authoritarian regime invites citizens to deliberate with policy-makers about public policy, why does political discussion reinforce government authority rather than promote democratization? This project studies this research question based on content analysis of three cases of citizen deliberation in China.
Images of Foreign Countries
The conventional wisdom in the United States is that anti-foreign sentiment is on the rise in China as the state fosters nationalism to replace Marxism-Leninism as the basis of legitimacy. This belief about nationalism colors the discourse in the academic, policy, and pundit worlds and contributes to an argument about the risks of rising Chinese power. In my research I am interested in the content of Chinese perceptions of foreign countries and the role of the media in explaining rising negative sentiment toward the United States and Japan. You can read more about this research in A. Iain Johnston and my online paper of “Chinese Attitudes Toward the United States and Americans,” published in Robert Keohane and Peter Katzenstein, eds. 2007. Anti-Americanisms in World Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. I have also just finished a project studying Chinese views of the European Union in comparison to the United States, Russia, and Japan, funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the Commission of the European Union (FP-7) .