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Book Review: Fascinating Cross-border Fourth Estate Comparisons; By Asma Masood

Updated: Feb 1, 2023


Image Courtesy: Bill petro


C3S Paper No. 0069/2016


Courtesy: VIDURA, a journal of the Press Institute of India, Vol. 8, Issue 2, April-June 2016

Robin Jeffrey, Ronojoy Sen, Ed., Media at Work in China and India: Discovering and Dissecting, (SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2015), Rs.995.


Be it Beijing or Delhi, the indispensable nature of media cannot be undermined. The volume analyzes the media’s role in India and China in four chapters.


Under Part-I, “Structures”, Li Yang describes the Chinese media architecture. A candid observation made is that of mentioning the nation’s quest for “What is the criterion of truth?” since 1978.


The Indian media, with its multi-layered hues has been examined in two different chapters based on print newspapers and television news media. The former, examined by Robin Jeffrey expresses an awe of the mind-boggling statistics concerning India’s newspapers. The fact that certain Indian newspapers support certain political parties was not cited.


Nevertheless, television news media, as viewed by Nalin Mehta, must be scrutinized largely on the basis of political leanings. He acknowledges Times Now’s success and the positive audience response towards its aggressive posture. However he remains neutral on whether this popularity reflects ‘sound’ judgment.


Ying Zhu places a lens on the cultural war waged by China against the West via media controls thereby explaining its fears of cultural ‘erosion’. Intriguingly, the chapter mentions that a popular American sitcom, The Big Bang Theory was banned in China. Although not mentioned by the writer, it is interesting to note that the banned show features a character of Chinese origin in a comic manner.


Part, II, “Reporters”, begins with the self-portrait of a Chinese journalist, John Zhou. Anshuman Tiwari depicts his life as a Hindi language journalist. The profiles of both aforementioned reporters include their family background, which may have influenced their journalistic experiences. Tang Lu determines that India’s rise to superpower status was not affected by the 26/11 Mumbai blasts, thus providing an original voice among the Chinese media uproar. Ananth Krishnan investigates the media hullabaloo in India over the credibility of an anonymous Chinese blog post that supported the balkanization of India. The Indian writer who cited the post defended his decision to quote it, saying that the post could not have been uploaded without the Chinese government’s consent. The topic of Chinese reactions to the incident is not mentioned.


“Practices” under Part –III commences with Ronojoy Sen describing the Times of India’s reporting on China. It presents a detailed chapter on the theme. Srinjoy Choudhury offers a refreshing take on the view of China from the Indian television newsroom.


Danny Geevarghese points out that India does not receive much attention from the Chinese television media, specifically China Central Television (CCTV). John Jirik’s analysis of the CCTV-Reuters relationship reveals informative statistics on media bias for news selection. Subhomoy Bhatterjee in “Covering Commerce” recognizes that there are gaps in coverage of solid economic issues by both sides. Perhaps the next edition of the book can also include Indian media’s perceptions of China’s recent economic slowdown.


Part IV, “Dissections”, has Ming Xia detailing in a gripping account of how the Chinese media, for a brief period, were allowed to blow off steam in the aftermath of the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake. However, there was criticism in the national media of the Indian government’s delay in responding to the 2013 Uttarkhand floods. Unfortunately, as Anup Kumar points out, the regional news media initially played down the situation’s gravity.


The penultimate chapter deconstructs the new generation media in India and China on a comparative basis. Johnathan Benney and Nimmi Rangaswamy give notes on case studies of Weibo in China and SMSGupShup in India. While the account on Weibo was demystifying, the content on Indian social media would be a much brighter read, if light was thrown on India’s Twitter and Facebook usage.


Either way, the authors opine that it is over optimistic to expect real political change (in China) and economic alterations (in India) via social media. While one may disagree, saying that social media was instrumental in the making of the Arab Spring, one is jolted back to reality, recollecting the tight Chinese government monitoring of the media.


Simon Long concludes the book by discouraging the misconceptions created by Indian and Chinese media of either country. The Western media’s hyping of Sino-Indian rivalry is not condoned. Interestingly, the Western media’s debate on whether democracy will emerge in China is not mentioned.


However, a recent Global Times report [i] on Baidu’s plans to aggregate data for warnings of large crowds gathering in China, confronts us with the likelihood that media is far from forming a dawn of democracy in China.


The efforts of the writers are to be commended, for taking up a novel idea and manifesting it in said words. The theme of the book is certainly a unique one, as it revolves around the comparison of the media in India and China. It is not easy analyzing the profound element of media, especially when contrasting it in a democratic system like India and a single-party controlled Communist state like China.


As Li Yang stated in the book, the media in China plays a supervisory role of a watchdog for the government. It can be said without much ado that in India the media remains a watchdog of the government. These differences best sum up the tone the book, which make it an interesting and worthy read.


[i] Shan Jie, “Counting Crowds”, Global Times, March 29 2016, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/976528.shtml.


(Asma Masood is a Research Officer with the Chennai Centre for China Studies, India. She can be contacted at asma.masood11@gmail.com. Twitter:@asmamasood11)

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