(How) Does China Control Media Outlets?


The many contradictions which lie at the very core of media outlets are nothing short of fascinating. On the one hand, these media outlets (mainstream media as well as alternative media) are very effective at shaping the opinion of the average content consumer. Many outlets, when reaching out to me with interview requests or other opportunities, refer to yours truly as an “influencer” and despite me hating that term, I cannot help but acknowledge that yes, content creators or let’s say opinion former do influence the manner in which the general public perceives reality.

In other words, media outlets have a role of game-changing importance.

As such, one would perhaps believe that running a legitimate media outlet is a more than lucrative venture. Hiring content creators, investing in equipment, selling advertising. A straightforward path to generous profits, is it not? Unfortunately, in many or even most places in the world, it is most definitely not.


Simply because there are so many costs involved and so many barriers pertaining to all sorts of pressure (including or especially political pressure) that after drawing the line, for most business owners, the profits associated with running a media outlet in a transparent and legitimate manner are not high enough for the business to make sense. There are simply far better places for your capital, especially if we factor in the emotional drain associated with this space.

It should therefore come as no surprise that pretty much everywhere, hidden agendas abound and the monetary equation associated with running a media outlet revolves around quite a bit more than transparently selling advertising to third parties. It is true in the West, China and pretty much everywhere else.

When it comes to one of the two previously outlined dimensions (the political pressure one), however, China does indeed tend to represent a far more hostile environment than in the proverbial West. While even in the West, there can be negative repercussions associated with bothering influential interest groups (advertisers abandoning you, for example), opinion formers at the very least know that the likelihood of their very freedom being at risk is ridiculously low.

Can you suffer financial consequences? Yes.

Will you? Most likely.

But losing your freedom is highly unlikely, which is more than can be said about China. To put it differently, when it comes to political pressure, let’s just say China has a very direct approach which makes it clear that there is little tolerance for those who want to upset the status quo. In light of the fact that upsetting the status quo is what journalism is all about, it should be clear that yes, the situation in China can be considered dramatic as far as the political pressure dimension is concerned.

Moving on to the other dimension, the monetary one, we have a bit of a “good cop, bad cop” situation. China understands that even in an authoritarian political landscape, you might catch more flies with honey than vinegar and as such doesn’t just limit itself to punishing media outlets which end up being too aggressive. The practice of rewarding “loyal” outlets as well as individual opinion formers is just as widely spread.

In a nutshell, China controls the mainstream as well as alternative media outlets it holds jurisdiction over through a worrying cocktail that consists of the threat of punitive action on the one hand and the potential of being generously rewarded by “doing the right thing” on the other. Of course, China has more or less effective methods of trying to influence media outlets it doesn’t hold jurisdiction over as well (in many cases by learning from Russia) but that is a topic for another article.

Before ending this one, however, it is essential to make one aspect perfectly clear: we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming things are downright peachy in the West just because things are considerably worse in China in terms of direct control over media outlets. Those who believe they are receiving information from media outlets that is 100% transparent and free of hidden agendas are most likely deluding themselves, especially in China of course but also in the West.

As such, the only reasonable course of action revolves around something the ChinaFund.com team has been encouraging right from day one: being sometimes even excessively thorough in terms of due diligence, gathering information from a wide range of sources and most importantly, not outsourcing the final decision to anyone (in other words, always making the final decision yourself). When it comes to outsourcing everything else that pertains to your (primarily financial) interests in China, the ChinaFund.com team is, of course, only one message away.

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