The Paradox of the State-Run Media Promoting Poor Governance in China

Case Studies of a Party Newspaper and an Anticorruption Film

Author: Rachel Murphy


This essay draws on the analysis of media texts and ethnographic fieldwork to present case studies of the production, distribution, and consumption of two kinds of media products in China that are used for educating cadres about official policies, law and morality, namely, a Party-produced prefectural newspaper and an anticorruption film. Such pedagogic media products merit study because they are consumed by a huge audience of cadres who are entrusted with interpreting and implementing state policy and with carrying out the daily work of the different institutions that make up the Party-state. The case studies show that the internal circulation of pedagogic media products within the Party-state apparatus works in two ways to reinforce “organizational involution,” which causes poor governance. First, the content of the media products and their methods of distribution buttress the norms and institutional practices that entrench unchallenged power, corruption, and official malfeasance within the system. Examples include the role of top-down administrative fiat in determining the content of the media products and the ways in which individuals and institutions are compelled to purchase materials and participate in pedagogic activities to secure their positions. Second, state pedagogy deflects attention away from the structural failings of the Party-state system. The pedagogic products enable the Party-state to portray itself as the leading crusader in the fight against corruption, despite the corrupting consequences of its continuing unsupervised monopoly on power. Meanwhile, self-improvement exhortations in the media texts sidestep the question of systemic political reform.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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