Checking up on world media

February 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 4
By Christopher Guly

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Associate professor of communication Yuezhi Zhao plans to develop a global media monitoring and analysis lab at the school of communication, the first of its kind in a Canadian university.

Zhao, who was appointed a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in the political economy of global communication last September, says the lab will, in part, be used to analyze similarities and differences in news coverage provided by such global satellite-TV networks as the CBC, CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and China Central Television.

“We will explore various issues, including whether there is a convergence in style or ideology between television news from different regions,” explains Chinese-born Zhao, who was trained as a journalist in China and taught communication at the University of California, San Diego, from 1997 to 2000.

She is also writing a book, entitled Communication, Power, and Contestation in Globalizing China: When the Bottom Line is the Party Line, a sequel to her 1998 book, Media, Market, and Democracy in China: Between the Party Line and the Bottom Line.

The second volume will examine communication and power in China over the past two decades and further analyze the complicated relationships between capitalism and democracy, says Zhao, who obtained her PhD in communication from SFU in 1996.

“The media system in China is even more commercialized than it is in Canada, yet it is still under tight party control. So it's not always the case that a free press follows commercialization.”

She argues that in the post-9/11 world and as a result of media convergence, the West may in fact bear shades of what New York Times writer Paul Krugman called the “China Syndrome,” or more accurately for her, “market authoritarian tendencies.”

Says Zhao, “Look at Rupert Murdoch's Fox News in the U.S., which has been a cheerleader for the U.S. administration, or here in Canada, where CanWest ordered its newspapers to run the same editorial from its head office in Winnipeg. Does that bear some resemblance to what the Communist party is doing in China?”

As part of her research, she will also look at whether China is following the market authoritarian communication policies of Singapore and Malaysia, which have become Asian leaders in multimedia technology while maintaining tight controls over it.

Zhao explains that in examining the disconnection between democracy and capitalism in a huge country like China, there are implications for Canada and the U.S., given that North Americans consume a disproportionately high percentage of the world's resources.

“If we go to China, a country with a population of 1.3 billion, and sell our lifestyle, we should expect the Chinese to claim their share of the global resources. Will that mean we have to re-examine our pattern of consumption and rethink our idea of consumerism? And, how are we going to redistribute our resources?”

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