Journalists on Journalism

China: TV Dominates Information Sources

This article appeared in the December 2001 World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 12)

The Chinese media, all under government control, are expected to be mouthpieces of the Communist Party and the government. Meanwhile, because the media have to support themselves financially, they must meet the market demand by capturing the people’s interest. Now people look for both information and entertainment from the media. So the media must be able to “infotain” while playing their traditional mouthpiece role.

Television, with the best capacity of “infotaining,” remains the most important source of information for most Chinese, according to a survey conducted among 6.6 million residents in Beijing last July by the Opinion Institute of the Chinese People’s University based in the Chinese capital.

The survey report, published in January, indicates that among the permanent literate residents aged 14 to 70, 93.5 percent or 6.171 million, watch television everyday, while 64 percent or 4.24 million read newspapers, which constitute the secondary source of information. TV reaches more than 80 percent of the Chinese population of nearly 1.3 billion. The survey found that the average viewer spends about three hours a day watching TV. There are more than 3,000 TV stations and cable TV stations throughout the country. Although only 11.2 percent of the respondents, or 739,000 people, surf the Internet every day, this group is expanding fast, up by 5 percent from the previous survey a year ago.

In contrast, the time people spend reading newspapers has decreased, from 80 minutes in 1999 to 76 minutes in 2000, according to the survey. This is partly due to the rise of the Internet, says Professor Yu Guoming, who conducted the survey. Radio is the tertiary source of information, as the survey shows, with 47.8 percent of people listening to radio every day, up by 2 points since 1999. An average listener spends 56 minutes daily, four minutes more than a year ago. CCTV’s evening news at 19:00 boasts the biggest audience, at more than 100 million. However, for analytical information, most people would turn to print media, says Yu Guoming.

Currently, more than 2,000 newspapers are published across China, with a total of 27 billion copies in print. There are more than 8,000 titles of magazines and periodicals. The radio audience of the 49,000 rediffusion stations accounts for 77.4 percent of the country’s population.

Limited as they may have been, the Chinese media do bring the world closer to the nation, with a diversified presentation on subjects ranging from National Missile Defense to the Oscar and NBC stars.