Generating news in China

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Generating news in China

 

Sustaining state legitimacy in the punch of political scandals

 

A case study of local newspapers in China

 

Xianwen Kuang

 

Introduction

Many studies on news media control in authoritarian states indicate that the bottom line of government control over the media is to safeguard state legitimacy (see e.g. Kuang, 2018). This is true for both national and local news organizations, though another important mission of the latter is to sustain the image of local government and political leaders who have immense influence on the running of the news organizations in their territory of governance (Fewsmith and Gao, 2014). Most studies investigate these important issues by examining what media content was being censored and what not. While this is indeed an effective way to study it, an alternative is to compare how news media content has changed following a critical event that is detrimental to both state legitimacy and local government image, e.g. the fall of a political leader who received consistently positive media coverage before the scandal.

China's People's Daily Runs 11 Xi Jinping Headlines on its Front Page - WSJ
China’s People’s Daily Runs 11 Xi Jinping Headlines on its Front Page – WSJ

This chapter examines how the local news newspapers in Chongqing depicted the image of Bo Xilai – the former governor of the city – before and after his dismissal from office following the exposure of political scandals that he was involved in. It aims to investigate how the state-led local newspapers in China serve to build up the image of local governments and local government cadres in normal periods of time but sustain state legitimacy in the aftermath of local political scandals. The findings of the chapter are expected to further our understandings of how local news organizations respond to the control from both the national and local levels of government on the reporting of crisis and scandals.

News media control, censorship and state legitimacy

Since the opening up and reform of China, government control of the news media in the country has been transiting from direct control to indirect control (Ken’ichi, 2011, p. 187). While the news media were the tool to spread propaganda in the past, they are now driven by the necessity to accommodate the needs of audiences, advertisers and sponsors (Ken’ichi, 2011, p. 187). Despite this change, the bottom line of https://www.empowher.com/user/381537 news media control in China is the safeguarding of legitimacy (Kuang, 2018). There are three major approaches for the government to control and censor the news media, namely political, economic and legal.

Li Na's win was big news in China, on front page of state-run paper

With the political approach, the government has developed a sophisticated system that encompasses the set-up of governmental agencies such as the Central Propaganda Department (CPD), the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) and the Internet Information Management Bureau (IIMB) to control the news media content and conduct news censorship. At the nationwide macroscale level, the CPD, through its directly supervised propaganda departments at lower administrative levels including provincial, municipal and district, monitors, instructs and censors all of the news organizations within the country (Luo, 2015, p. 54). At the corporate administration level, the central regulatory bodies, including the CPD, can influence the appointment of local political leaders who could further influence the selection of local media managers (Nhan, 2008, p. 43). These managers, while serving the commercial needs of the news company to produce more favourable content for the audiences, are also expected to censor news information that is considered unfavourable to the government (Nhan, 2008, p. 43). Meanwhile, another key person in the news organization, i.e. the Party branch secretary, is responsible for implementing the Party’s tasks within the news organization (Luo, 2015).

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In addition, the government has indirect control over the news media through its power of licensing. The SAPPRFT, for example, has used the licensing system for the newspaper sector to ensure the Party’s control over the press (Zhao, 2004, p.189). Moreover, the government could influence the news content through the control of new sources. For example, the local levels of government could influence the media both by developing information dissemination strategies and by banning some particular types of reporting (Tong & Sparks, 2009, p. 341). While some journalists find it easy to get access to some information, others find it extremely difficult to gain access to interviews with relevant sources in the government. Journalists who had published sensitive or “inaccurate” reports for example, were usually banned from future interviews with the government sources (Kuang, 2017).

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As for the economic approach, the state has great influence over the news content through its ownership and sponsorship of news organizations. For example, with its ownership of the Xinhua News Agency, the Party State has effective control of the newsfeed of most news outlets in China as most of them are required to secure their news sources through Xinhua (Nhan, 2008, p. 42). Another means of press control is through news media conglomeration. In order to consolidate the political leadership of the news media industry, news organizations (e.g. newspapers at different levels including city, provincial and central) were reorganized into media conglomerates (Nhan, 2008, pp. 45–46). As Tan (2008) indicates, the principal purpose of press conglomeration “was to ensure the better fulfilment of the Party’s propaganda objectives”. This could be achieved by simplifying the appointment of media managers and reducing competition between news outlets for advertisement revenue, which make the news organizations more willing to comply with the Party’s directives over content (Nhan, 2008). As Piotroski, Wong and Zhang (2017, p. 181) point out, with only one editorial board and one management team, the news media group can coordinate the activities of each news organization within the group well and can manage the political risks. Besides, with the non-Party news organizations subsidizing the Party ones, media conglomerates significantly strengthen the ability of the Party news organizations to serve as the mouthpieces of the government (Piotroski, Wong & Zhang, 2017, p. 181). One last method of the economic approach for the government to control the news media is the use of monetary incentives. It is clear that journalists who have done controversial and sensitive news reports before would not receive their pay or bonuses (Nhan, 2008, p. 46). This method has effectively led to self-censorship by individual journalists to avoid monetary losses (Nhan, 2008, p. 46).

Chinese government spying on the entire world…

Besides the political and economic approaches, the Party State has also adopted the legal approach to influence news production. While there are no laws and regulations referring to specific legislation for journalism (Zhang & Wang, 2019, p. 437), the constitution articles, e.g. Article 53, which requires all Chinese citizens to “protect state secrets, cherish public assets, respect public order and social morals”, and Article 54, which prohibits citizens to reject their duty to protect the “security, honor and interests of the motherland”, are used to suppress politically unsavoury information (Nhan, 2008, pp. 40–41). Although the constitution claims to protect people’s right of free speech, according to Zhao (2004), a whole series of laws, regulations as well as rules from Party State agencies serve to limit this right (pp. 180–181).

 

The Party State is considered to have used all the three political, economic and legal approaches to safeguard state legitimacy. Hearns-Branaman (2009, p. 122) states that the Chinese Party State has used the media to perform all the three functions of the media simultaneously, including authoritarian, paternal and commercial, in order to legitimate their rule, guide the population and sell consumer products, respectively. The state considers the news media a powerful propaganda tool that is governed by the “Party principle” (Nhan, 2008, p. 38). Under these guiding principles, the news media are requested to reflect the Party’s guiding ideology, to disseminate the Party’s programmes, policies and directives as well as to subscribe to the Party’s organizational principles and press policies and accept the Party’s leadership (Zhao, 1998). These components are highly relevant to the safeguard of state legitimacy. In their discussion about the political role of the Chinese media that is called “Mass Line”, both Qin, Strömberg and Wu (2018, pp. 2447–2248) and Kuang (2018) have made it clear that not all negative news like corruption and wrongdoings of lower-level Party officials and government agencies are censored because the reporting of such news could enable the Party and its top leaders to acquire intelligence about the performance of bureaucrats and public sentiment, helping them to bolster the legitimate ruling of the Party State.

 

Safeguarding sate legitimacy and maintaining the image of local governments

 

While news organizations in China are all requested to safeguard state legitimacy, those at the lower levels including the provincial and municipal are also expected to maintain the image of the local governments following the administrative decentralization of the state. However, when state legitimacy and the image of local governments can work hand in hand most of the time, there could be conflicts as well, especially when the local governments want to keep silent its wrongdoings at the local level.

 

It is believed that the conflict between the central and local government is a result of repeated decentralization and re-centralization. Li (2010, p. 178) saw the acute tension between the central and local Party committees and governments following the cycles of administrative decentralization and re-centralization in China before 1970s. Though the provincial leaders have gained enhanced delegated powers, resources and autonomy following the administrative decentralization since the reform and opening up of China in the late 1970s, the conflicts between the central and provincial and lower-level governments remain as they have been competing for direct control and regulatory powers over various resources including the news media (Li, 2010, p. 180).

 

It is also believed that there is divergence of interests between the central and local governments. Fewsmith and Gao (2014, p. 173) considered that most of the interests of central and local governments overlapped but the local governments do pursue their interests in their own way, which could contradict with what the Central Government would want it to be. These conflicts of interests between the two could become acute when the Central Government moves beyond economic development to new pursuits like anti-corruption and environment protection (Fewsmith & Gao, 2014, p. 173). In other words, the Central Government has a greater interest in safeguarding state legitimacy while the local governments are concerned more about task fulfilment like maintaining social stability and a positive image of themselves and thus legitimacy is not their primary concern (Cai, 2008; and Kuang, 2018).

 

With the conflicts the Central Government has been making efforts to control the local governments. Landry (2008) argues that the Central Government has developed the promotion mechanism to control the local cadres while at the same time achieve rapid economic development. Alongside the promotion mechanism is the cadre management system, which holds the five levels of government in China including central, provincial, municipal (prefectural), county and township together through a hierarchical arrangement in which each higher level of government would appoint and evaluate the performance of cadres at the level below (Fewsmith & Gao, 2014, p. 172). For example, the Organization Department of the Central Committee would assess and manage all cadres appointed at the ministry/provincial and sub-provincial levels (Yang, 2014, p. 257) while the Organization Department of the Provincial Committee would do that for all officials at the Department and sub-Department levels. Here, the news media, which could disseminate good or bad stories about the local governments, can play an important role in influencing the appraisal of the higher-level leaders for the local cadres. That is also why the local leaders would exert tight control over the news organizations at the same level with their governments.

 

The news media have also become an investigative instrument of the Central Government to manage and discipline the local cadres. Since the local news organizations are in tight control of the corresponding levels of governments following the decentralization of the state, the news organizations at higher level would more often play the role of monitoring. The Central Government has typically relied on several instruments like the Xinhua News Agency, the New China News Agency, People’s Daily, CCTV and etc. to serve the special information needs of the central Party and government, including the wrongdoings of local governments and cadres (Chung, 2011, p. 305). Most of the time, such information is transmitted to Beijing through the internal reference (neibu cankao, 内部参考) series with the help of the local branches of these central level news organizations though the less sensitive cases could be directly reported to the public.

 

Yet the exposure of these scandals originating from the local levels of government could be challenging with the strengthened power of the local government following the decentralization of the state. Yang (2014, p. 257) has seen a growing tendency toward local protectionism starting from the early 1990s as the local governments increasingly became stakeholders. While it is not uncommon that the local people’s congresses reject the candidates recommended by the Central Government for some local posts (Yang, 2014, p. 257), the same could happen that the local governments are more in favour of local candidates for the manager and Party secretary posts in the news groups.

 

The control of the local governments over the local news organizations for the building of their positive image and the occasional exposure of their wrongdoings by the higher levels of news media have led to the decreasing trust of Chinese citizens in the local governments but more in the Central Government. The hierarchical trust, i.e. the central trust and local distrust, is clearly recognized in many existing studies, e.g. Chen (2017) and Li (2016). It is believed that the Central Government has intentionally allowed news criticism of the local governments and utilized the negative local image constructed by the higher levels of news media to cultivate local distrust and central trust. The Central Government find that blaming local governments is, in fact, a safe strategy to release public anger and gain regime support (Tanner, 2004). By shifting criticism to the local governments, the Central Government frames itself as a “good cop” that is there to “safeguard public interest” by denouncing the local “bad cop” (Bae, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

Methods and data

 

 

The discussion above indicates that the central and the local levels of government have diverging aims with the control over news media. While news media control of the Central Government aims for the safeguarding of state legitimacy and disciplining local cadres, the local levels of government are keener on using the news media to maintain a positive image of them and their leaders. While the higher-level news organizations are free from the control of the local levels of government, the local ones are subject to control from both the central and local authorities. It is thus interesting to study how the local news organizations that are controlled by both the central and local governments sustain both state legitimacy and the image of the local government respectively while covering a massive scandal of the local cadres, which is detrimental to both in nature.

 

To achieve the goal, the author has conducted a critical discourse analysis of the news reports of four newspapers in Chongqing, China, on the massive scandal of the former high-profile Chongqing political leader, i.e. Bo Xilai, before and after Bo was removed from office. The Bo Xilai Scandal led to the downfall of the former Party Secretary of Chongqing after Bo’s political chief, Wang Lijun, sought political asylum at the American General Consulate in Chengdu. Wang Lijun later revealed the murder of a British citizen, Neil Heywood, by Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai. The scandal is considered as highly sensitive and the reporting of it was tightly controlled by the central propaganda authority after Bo was removed from office.

 

The author collected news articles about the issue from the four major daily newspapers in Chongqing including Chongqing Daily (重庆日报), Chongqing Morning Post (重庆晨报) Chongqing Times (重庆时报) and The Three Gorges Metropolis Daily (三峡都市报) on the Wisers.com database that includes all news content published by the major newspapers in China. Among the four newspapers, one of them, i.e. Chongqing Daily, is a Party newspaper while the other three are non-Party newspapers.

 

Using the key words “Bo Xilai”, the author searched news reports in the four papers between mid-October 2011 and mid-November 2012, a period that covers several months before and after Bo Xilai was removed from office on 15 March 2012. After a review of over 1,000 news articles that contained the key word “Bo Xilai”, the author selected 62 news articles altogether that have largely depicted the image of Bo Xilai. These stories include 37 and 25 stories that were published before and after Bo was dismissed respectively (see Table 1.1).

 

Table 1.1 Number of sampled news stories on Bo Xilai from local newspapers in Chongqing between October 2011 and November 2012 Title of newspaper

 

Party or non-party

 

No. of stories

 

No. before Bo’s dismissal

 

No. after Bo’s dismissal

 

 

 

Chongqing Daily

 

Party

 

26

 

21

 

5

 

 

 

Chongqing Morning Post

 

Non-party

 

15

 

9

 

6

 

 

 

Chongqing Times

 

Non-party

 

10

 

6

 

4

 

 

 

The Three Gorges Metropolis Daily

 

Non-party

 

11

 

1

 

10

 

 

 

Total no. of news stories

 

62

 

37

 

25

 

 

 

With a glance at the number of sampled stories, it is noticeable that the Party newspaper, i.e. Chongqing Daily, produced more stories (N=21) with regards to the depiction of Bo Xilai’s image before his dismissal than the total number of other three non-Party newspapers (N=16). Typically, the Three Gorges Metropolis Daily only had one story. Such a difference could be a result of the distinction between Party and non-Party newspapers in China. According to Huang (2001) and Kuang (2020), the major difference between Party and non-Party newspapers in China is that the former serve more as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its governments, whereas the latter are more market-oriented and would seek profits to support the running of the newspaper conglomerate though both of them are owned by the Party State. It is thus likely that the non-Party newspapers were less motivated to produce news stories on the positive image of Bo while the Party one had to. However, this changed after Bo was dismissed from office as both Party and non-Party newspapers had a similar number of news articles focusing on Bo. This could reflect the fact that the newspapers in Chongqing, and even across China in general, were highly controlled by the propaganda authorities on their reporting on Bo and they were normally requested to use the news reports on Bo by the Xinhua News Agency only as indicated by Kuang and Wei (2018). The Three Gorges Metropolis Daily had a slightly bigger number (N=10) of news articles on Bo. This could also be explained by the fact that despite non-Party newspapers being controlled by the propaganda authorities on the reporting of nationally sensitive issues, they would try their best to report more on them as they are appealing to the market/audiences (Kuang, 2020).

 

Following the close reading of the 62 news stories and coding of each paragraph, the author summarized several themes on how Bo Xilai was depicted. He then connected these themes with the theoretical discussions on the power relations between the central and local governments and the local news organizations to analyse the discourses of such depictions.

 

 

 

 

 

Local news organizations under both local and Central Government control

 

 

The analysis indicates that the control of both central and local governments over the local news organizations in Chongqing before and after the Bo Xilai Scandal was strong. By comparing the news content from the four newspapers on Bo before and after he was removed from office, we can see how the control over the news media discourses was achieved to serve the goals of the controlling powers.

 

Before Bo was removed from office, we can see that the local news media in Chongqing have effectively fulfilled their responsibilities as the agencies of both the Central Government and local levels of government. In this period, the local news media’s responsibilities of sustaining the state legitimacy and the positive image of Bo as the governor of the Chongqing are not conflicting and so their news discourses were reflecting the symbiosis of both. After his dismissal, the local news organizations in Chongqing were in tight control of both the central authorities and the new government and the tones and discourses of the news reports on Bo were in a 180-degree turn. Using the local news media to denounce Bo became the tool for the Central Government and the new local government to maintain or even boost the state legitimacy and positive image of the local government.

 

 

 

 

 

Before the dismissal

 

 

On 15 March 2012 Beijing announced that Bo Xilai was discharged from office. All the news reports by the local newspapers in Chongqing had depicted Bo in a very positive way even after the police chief in his government was revealed to have entered the American General Consulate in Chengdu and sought political asylum on 9 February 2012. This indicates that the Wang Lijun Incident did not have impacts on how the local newspapers reported on Bo Xilai. Even during the Two Sessions, i.e. the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), that were held between 3 and 14 March 2012, there were no negative news stories about him and his government. There were only three pieces of news that mentioned the “rumours” about him and one of the three was actually his responses and refutation to the “rumours”. All the three stories expressed trust in his governance, especially trust and recognition from the outside world.

 

An analysis of these news reports shows that there are a few ways for the local newspapers in Chongqing to shape the positive image of Bo. First, by quoting his speeches massively, especially his talks on his understanding of the theories and achievements of various construction works in Chongqing, the news reports have depicted him as a responsible and capable leader. Among the 37 news articles focusing on Bo before his dismissal, 13 of them used this theme. For example, in a story published by Chongqing Daily on October 23, 2011, Bo was quoted as follows:

 

The Party’s Sixth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee has made overall arrangements on the further promotion of cultural reform and development. It emphasized the accelerated reform of the cultural institutions and deepened reform of state-own cultural enterprises as well as the establishment of a comprehensive modern cultural market system. We should understand these deeply and seize the very opportunities (arising from these initiatives) … In the past few years, Chongqing has actively promoted the construction of culture. The flourishing Singing, Reading, Narrating and Communicating Campaign has greatly boosted the spirit of the public and strengthened their cohesiveness. It has received wide popularity among the masses.

 

 

 

Theis quote clearly depicts Bo and his government as active builders and propellants of the socialist culture.

 

In another report on the Awarding Ceremony of the “Auditing Chongqing’s Most Beautiful Neighbourhood Activity” published by the Chongqing Morning Post on 28 October 2011, Bo was quoted:

 

Chongqing has made a few explorations in the areas of economy, culture and society. Many of the moves were the discreet decisions made by the Municipal Party Committee and the Municipal Government following their serious research and waves of rumination. All these aimed for a better living and the common prosperity.

 

 

 

This quote indicates Bo and his government’s contribution to the construction and development of Chongqing’s neighbourhoods. It also exhibits his sense of responsibility, which helped to shape his image as a good and responsible governor of Chongqing.

 

Moreover, while quoting Bo’s speeches, the news reports often highlight his citations of the ideas and thoughts of some important Chinese leaders as well as recognition of the political campaigns to build an image of Bo as an official who was loyal to the Party’s leadership and guidelines and who could execute these guidelines effectively. An example of such campaigns is the “changhong dahei” (唱红打黑, singing red, striking black) that mobilized the grassroots in Chongqing to sing patriotic and revolutionary songs from the Mao era to support the Chongqing government’s effort to crack down the black societies or the mafia gangs in the city.

 

Third, quite a few news reports depicted Bo as a friendly and loving political leader by reporting his interactions with the masses. For example, in the reports that involved children, the appellation for him was usually “Grandpa Bo”, which produced the sense of intimacy. Among these reports, one published by the Chongqing Times on 26 November 2011 described how Bo expressed his concerns to the orphaned and disable children when he participated in the opening ceremony of the Chongqing Love Manor:

 

Bo Xilai picked up the two-year-old Lulu and played with her chubby hands. The little one was a bit shy with the stranger but she soon grinned and showed a sweet smile. Everyone else also laughed.

 

 

 

Another report by the Three Gorges Metropolis Daily on 29 January 2012, told the story that Bo received an enthusiastic response from a left-behind girl whose parents have to migrate to other cities for better paid jobs after Bo sent her some New Year gifts. When she received the gifts including an encyclopaedia, a pair of gloves and a quilted jacket, the girl was very happy and said “When I was making my New Year wishes, I did not even expect that these could be realized. I thank Grandpa Bo for helping me achieve these New Year wishes”.

 

Fourth, by adopting the appraisals of political and social elites as well as the ordinary masses and netizens for Bo and his contributions to the construction of Chongqing, the news reports develop an image of a great political leader who has done his best to make huge contributions to the development of Chongqing. One report appeared in Chongqing Daily on 17 November 2011 quoted the highly positive comments of Shen Deyong, the former executive vice-president of the Supreme People’s Court, about Bo’s work on the construction of Chongqing and on the campaign of “striking the black and removing the evil” (打黑除恶):

 

Under the leadership of Party Secretary Xilai, Chongqing has initiated the “Singing Red, Striking Black” campaign, constructed “Five (goals of) Chongqing”, implemented the “10 guidelines on (improving) people’s livelihood” and “12 guidelines on (achieving) common prosperity”, and promoted the “construction of democratic rule”. Each of these important measures has brought benefits to the masses and promoted the scientific, healthy and balanced development of the city’s economy and society, which has been very admirable. The effects and achievements of the campaign against the black and evil are especially great, which truly demonstrated the socialism essence of making people the masters of their own affairs. All civilians have clapped their hands for joy to show their support to the campaign.

 

 

 

Although most of the reports used Bo’s speeches and the views of other people to build the positive images of Bo without directly addressing the stances of the news organizations, the discourses of image shaping through the four different ways introduced above were most evident in the newspapers which in fact serve as the agents for the local government.

 

 

 

 

 

After the dismissal

 

 

Soon after the Central Government announced the dismissal of Bo from office following the closure of the Two Sessions on 15 March 2012, the news reports on Bo turned upside down. Totally different from before, all of the four local newspapers in Chongqing published exactly the same pieces of news from Xinhua News Agency on the same days, which indicated that the Central Government took over control of local news organizations and none of the newspapers made any original reports about Bo. For example, on 16 March 2012, all four newspapers used the news report titled “The City launches leading cadre convention: The Central Committee of the CCP decides to adjust the main leaders of the Municipal Party Committee”. Again, on 11 April 2012, all of the four news outlets published the same piece of commentary from the People’s Daily titled “Strongly support the correct decision of the Party Central Committee (on the filing for investigation of Bo’s serious disciplinary violations)”.

 

Most of these news reports emphasized the governing principles of maintaining and sustaining the legitimacy and image of the Party and the Central Government through the discourses of combating corruption and building a clean government as well as running state affairs according to law. An example of this is the report by Chongqing Times on 13 April 2012 titled “Cadres and masses believe that the decision of the Central Committee represents the absolute determination of the Party to combat corruption”. The report considered that the decision has “indicated that the ruling party is highly alert to the risks of governance, aware of the need to prevent corruption and has the consensus of maintaining party discipline and state law”. Apart from this, only a small portion of the news reports addressed Bo himself except in the reports about the case presentations in the hearings of Bo in the court.

 

Moreover, the main messages of the paragraphs evaluating Bo in these news articles were that the former governor of Chongqing had seriously breached the principles and violated the laws, which had caused great losses to the state and people and had created very bad influences. A report appearing in the Three Gorges Metropolis Daily on 11 April 2012 commented:

 

Seeing from the facts that have been revealed up to now, the Wang Lijun Incident is a serious political event which has created adverse impact at home and abroad. The death of Neil Heywood is a serious crime involving family and staff of a Party and State leader. The conduct of Bo Xilai has seriously violated the discipline of the Party, brought losses to the enterprises of the Party and the State and caused great harms to the images of the Party and the State.

 

 

 

Another report by the same newspaper on 1 October 2012 quoted similar comments by cadres and masses from different parts of the country:

 

The conduct of Bo Xilai has seriously violated the discipline of the Party and the laws of the State, causing baneful influences at home and abroad. The investigation and disposal of Bo Xilai’s serious discipline violation by the Central Committee has won the heart of civilians and met their expectations.

 

 

 

Underneath these lines was the discourse that the Central Government would not tolerate such misconduct. In fact, the major themes and discourses of the news report in the six months following 15 March 2020 when Bo was discharged from office were distinctive in different time periods. Between March and June, 2012, the main themes of the reports were “maintaining the image of the Party and strengthening the national cohesion” following the denouncing of Bo’s serious breach of discipline and law, emphasizing the importance for the Party to rule the country by law. However, in the two months of May and July, 2012, there were no reports on Bo at all. While between August and September 2012, the news articles were mainly about presenting the details of the legal case and the judicial decisions of the court, which were followed by the condemnations of the serious misconduct. Finally, in the last two months of our observations, i.e. October and November 2012, the key theme and discourse of the news articles were that Bo’s law-breaching case was so serious that it brought massive losses to the state and the people, through which the newspapers emphasized the determination of the state to combat corruptions.

 

 

 

 

 

Further discussion and conclusion

 

 

This chapter, by comparing the local news reports on Bo Xilai, the former Chinese political leader in Chongqing, before and after his removal from the government following the revelation of his scandals, demonstrates the split of the local news organizations on the themes and discourses they have used to portray the image of the politician. The findings show that before Bo was discharged from the government, he was portrayed as a responsible and capable leader who explicitly expressed loyalty to the Party’s leadership and guidelines and his determination to execute these guidelines effectively. Moreover, he was depicted as a friendly political leader who loved his people and strived to contribute to the development and success of Chongqing.

 

However, in the aftermath of the announcement of his dismissal, Bo was reported as a corrupt official who had seriously breaching the principles and violating the laws, causing great losses to the state and people and created very bad influences. Instead of focusing on the image of Bo, most news reports in this period emphasized on the governing principles of maintaining and sustaining the legitimacy and image of the Party and the Central Government. This was achieved by putting forward the discourses of combating corruption and building a clean government as well as running state affairs according to law.

 

The findings above reflect that the local news organizations are under the tight control of the local government and that during the normal periods have effectively built and maintained a positive image of the local government and its officials. However, soon after the scandal of the political leader in the local government was exposed, the local news organizations, which were in the hands of the new leadership and government appointed by the Central Government, turned their news reports upside down to denounce the political leader in concern. This revealed the effective and successful control of the Party State and the Central Government over the different levels of news organization including the local ones. The effectiveness of the political approach of news media control was evident in the case of Chongqing. Similar to what Luo (2015) finds, the propaganda department in Chongqing had obviously been supervised by the CPD to instruct the local news organizations in their coverage of Bo Xilai. We could see that none of the four newspapers would use original reports to report on Bo but trans-print the news stories on him by the Xinhua News Agency, the official agency of the Party State. Based on the data in this study, it was unclear whether the CPD had replaced the local media managers. However, even though the management remained unchanged, the Central Government had appointed new leaders in the Chongqing government, which would definitely influence the news reporting of the local newspapers as Nhan (2008) indicated.

 

These further reflect the power relations between the local governments/cadres and the Central Government. During the normal times, the two levels of government are in a harmonious relationship with the local governments and its cadres using the local news media to express their loyalty to the Party principles and leadership, as well as adherence to sustaining the state legitimacy through building their positive images. This is a period that Fewsmith and Gao (2014) considered as the time when the interests of the central and local governments overlapped. Though safeguarding state legitimacy was not the local government’s primary concern (Cai, 2008; and Kuang, 2018), local cadres’ use of the local news media to develop their positive images was not in conflict with the Central Government’s pursuit to sustain its legitimate ruling.

 

While in the crisis of the political scandals by the local political leaders, the relationship between the local leaders/governments in question and the Central Government is broken with the latter no longer seeing the officials committing misconduct as its agents. Here the conflicts between the two levels of government for different pursuits emerged (Fewsmith and Gao, 2014). What we could see in the case of Bo Xilai was the discourses of denouncement and condemnation, attributing all the responsibilities to the local cadres for the cause of the huge losses to the Party State without admitting any responsibilities of the state in its management of its local officials. Such systematic fault could have been a side product of the state’s administrative decentralization since the late 1970s (Li, 2010).

 

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