Sunday, 27 February 2011

Propaganda Going Public

Some Chinese state media outlets are going public this year in an attempt to gain more revenue, but not necessarily loosen editorial control.

The websites of People's Daily, Xinhua and China Central Television are preparing their IPOs in an attempt to better compete with commercial news websites.

However, they have a tall order to fill, as who would buy shares of people.com.cn when it ranks 46th on the mainland and xinhuanet.com at 33rd, when the most popular websites are search engine Baidu, internet portal qq.com, and ebay clone Taobao, in that order.

The other reason for going public is that these state media outlets need more funding in order to provide more services such as online video and public opinion surveys which people.com.cn plans to do. They are hoping with more services, people will be more keen to go to state media for more information, a plan that will probably fail.

Part of the reason is that state media organs are bloated with staff and the bureaucratic way in which they're run hardly makes them nimble especially when there is breaking news.

Song Shinan, a media analyst based in Sichuan said: "It won't work if the authorities just splash out money and use their advantages in policies and resources. The core is to concentrate on producing content, improving communication channels and hiring talented employees."

He said people.com.cn had too many editors and reporters -- some 700 of them -- which was inefficient.

Another problem pointed out by Zhao Shuguang, director of the Media Survey Lab at Tsinghua University, was that salaries at official state media websites were much lower than those at commercial sites which meant it would be difficult not only to lure talent but also retain them.

"The IPOs are intended to change only the way they operate, not the censorship system," said Song. "The official news websites are always more tightly controlled by the authorities."

What's interesting to note is that the State Council Information Office says the media organizations running the websites must retain at least 30 percent of the shares and an editorial policy committee will be set up at each website to approve the content. Wouldn't it be fascinating if say someone like Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai eventually bought up the majority of the shares of these websites through a shell company. Then what would the authorities do?

But also -- just because these websites are going to have IPOs it doesn't guarantee they will be a success, and if they do go public, then they have to constantly give better quality content because shareholders will demanding it -- thus increasing the number of stakeholders by the millions.

One really wonders if these media sites really know what they are getting themselves into. While it's understandable the government is trying to wean these outlets off financially, ironically if they really did report the truth and got rid of the propaganda, perhaps people would be genuinely interested in what they had to say.

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