At this moment, the Chinese media are at a crossroads. Hitherto, media regulation had been primarily aimed at ensuring, in a top-down manner, that the ruling party’s message was spread to the population. This objective was supported by overall State ownership and control over media outlets, strict requirements over content, authority over personnel appointments and a tight punitive regime. In recent years, however, this picture has become more complex.
Economically, the media sectors have diversified, as economic growth became an important target. Private and foreign capital has entered into different activities, creating new expectations concerning transparency and predictability of regulatory action. In step with the pluralisation of Chinese society, the media are becoming increasingly diverse in their offerings. Provincial satellite television channels – State-owned, but commercially operated – have developed different entertainment programmes, which are a far cry away from the stereotypical staid content of the official central stations. Tabloid newspapers have developed in a sensationalist manner that would not strike the British observer as odd. China’s telecommunications infrastructure has advanced rapidly, but regulatory structures have, for the time being, prevented the integration of media services.
The most important game-changer, however, has been the Internet. The development of on-line connection rocked the regulatory structure to its core, particularly with the popularization of social media. The traditional regulatory structure, based on pre-publication censorship, became untenable as millions of individual Chinese have gained access to tools of public communications. This has engendered new questions for judges and lawyers, pertaining to the acceptable boundaries of public expressions in relation to questions of defamation and infringement of privacy. In other words, there is an urgent need for the development of a private media law in China.
Thus far, Chinese media law has not yet been an object of consistent study and research. While a number of outstanding articles have been written concerning specific aspects of the Chinese media regime, most macro-level studies of the Chinese information order have either approached this subject from the angle of politics, including matters such as censorship, freedom of expression, etc.; trade and intellectual property rights; and cultural studies. Nonetheless, the above developments demonstrate that the development of Chinese media law and regulation, as a coherent body of rules aimed at regulating the flow of public information, merits attention as a subject in and of itself.
As a preliminary step in that direction, the Programme for Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford is organizing a conference on 15 and 16 June 2012, which will deal with a diverse number of topics related to the development of Chinese media. It will provide an overview of recent developments in media law, and will deal in a more specialized manner with questions relating to defamation, the development of advertising regulation, telecommunications, regulation of journalists and economic aspects of media law.
This conference is free of charge, an agenda is available on the China Copyright and Media website. Space is limited and anyone wishing to attend should register with Ms. Louise Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org. Videos of the presentations will be posted online, on the China Copyright and Media Blog.