A Battle of Truth

The high-speed bullet train collision in China raised a battle between the party-controlled traditional media and the newly born media, mainly micro-blog and Renren (the Chinese version of Facebook), to win over the credence of Chinese people. The sluggishness of the traditional media to report on the accident which resulted from the “Do not question, do not elaborate and do not associate” requirement of the party is in sharp contrast to the intensive and detailed coverage on those new media. What makes Chinese people this time even angrier is that the government has been clearly compelling the public to believe in fabricated information from the official information sources. Such action, in fact, produce counter-effect of what the government hopes to attain through its propaganda for Chinese people are now highly aware of brain-wash and indoctrination and hold strong repugnance against such things. Therefore, the concealment or fabrication of the information would only put the government and the traditional media which is under the control of the party in the vicious cycle of trust crisis while the micro-blog and Renren are deemed to be more trust worthy as they exposed much more raw and real materials, at least seemingly so, collected by the grass roots.

The core of the problem then is clear here. As long as the traditional media could not fulfill its role of a trusted supervisor of the society and remove its public image as a propaganda machine for the party, the battle will never end. Normally, the traditional media has its competitive edge because of the higher social credibility and depth of reports. Besides, it generally protects the public interest from infringement done by any entity, which is the basic function that media is supposed to have. Nonetheless, the party’s control has halted these essential functions, making it solely an advocate of the mind and will of the party and a liar in most cases. On the other hand, the grass-root based model of information transmission in new media makes itself much less influenced by the party though the censorship system still automatically wipes out “reaationary” rhetoric. In addition, the speed of the spread in new media is much higher than traditional media, making it more difficult for the party to control. However, the high speed brings about the problem of the spreading of rumors. The consequence could be public panic or any other kinds of social unrest. Luckily, the high speed of spreading also means that there is larger possibility to clear out rumors. Thus, the defects and benefits of the new media actually strike a balance and functions as supervisors somehow while the deformed traditional media which could not even realize some of the basic functions of media, is being a puppet of the government rather than a watchdog of public interests.

If current trend keeps on developing, the government would be very likely to get bogged down in the Tacitus Dilemma situation where the public won’t buy whatever the government says. If the government is caught lying in Tacitus Dilemma, the backlash against the government will grow stronger. Ergo, building up trust between the government, media and the public is of tremendous significance.

The vicious cycle starts with party’s control over traditional media. The aspects for an ordinary person to judge that whether a report is trust worthy or not are quality of the source of the facts, number of effective facts and the exclusiveness of the content. Thus, with the elimination of the control, a benign cycle is likely to occur de facto. In the first step, more facts could be collected with different measures because the government obstructs less the process of media investigation. Coming up, with the augmentation of the amount of released information, more effective facts would be exposed to the public satisfying their curiosity about causes and consequences of incidents. As a result, the public suspicion of government’s deliberate concealment of its wrongdoings will decrease. Due to the effect of market competition, media agencies would strive to obtain the exclusive information, strengthening its pursuit of better information resources and collection of information and its supervisory role as a result.

What also should be noticed is a new trend of thinking among young people in China. They maintain that what they should do is to fulfill their own obligation of work rather than urge reform of the society. No matter such statement is right or wrong, it still indicates people will to change the situation. A change may not come right away, but it must come someday.

Wenxiong Zhang, a reporter (intern), at the 4th Media

Send to liyang@chinadaily.com.cn

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