China media regulation saw a rare conflict at the new year when Southern Weekly's New Year Message was reportedly altered by publicity department of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the CPC, which provoked much discussion online. The original article recounted the difficulties of implementing constitutional governance in China for more than a century. In the altered version, the tone was changed to claim that China is closer to that goal than ever before. Many Internet opinion leaders support the editorial department of Southern Weekly. There are even some hard-line statements on behalf of the editorial department of Southern Weekly that have appeared on Weibo.
Whether this incident was a collective decision by the editorial department or caused by several editors' personal behavior is still unknown.
Realistically speaking, many Chinese media outlets have experiences of major reports being altered by officials. This incident involving Southern Weekly is a prominent example of how this mode of media management is faced by significant challenges, which have built up over time. For a long time, many media outlets have played touch ball with administrative departments' instructions.
China's social reality and the environment of media governance are rapidly changing. Western values have influenced many Chinese intellectuals.
It is less attractive for many media people to make explorations and innovations under the current management system. It is easier for them to maximize "universal values" in China and realize the interest of media in this process.
The reality is that old media regulatory policies cannot go on as they are now. The society is progressing, and the management should evolve. Traditional media is integrating intimately with new media in China, resulting in frequent migration of professionals and different ways for them to pursue their personal interests. All these means the traditional regulation mechanisms no longer fit the new environment
But no matter how the Chinese media is regulated, they will never become the same as their Western counterparts. This should be the basic judgment of Chinese media professionals. China's political system differs from the West's, and the media cannot separate itself from a country's political reality. The only way that fits the development of Chinese media is one that can suit the country's development path.
But media regulation is a tough job in modern society. Like regulating the Internet, which has been met with strong resistance from public opinion, many hold that management of any form is the violation of media freedom. So effective management shouldn't rely solely on authorities, but can be realized internally.
It is hoped that the latest issue can touch both the regulators and media professionals. The progress of the media will not be an easy result of regulation or mere copying of the Western style.