Prospects for citizen journalism in China
- Source: The Global Times
- [00:17 June 05 2009]
By Zhan Jiang
Citizen journalism is the phenomenon in which ordinary citizens voluntarily collect and distribute information and opinions on events concerning public interest via the Internet.
The rise of citizen journalism is due to the Internet, which transforms common people from a passive audience of traditional media into active participants in creating news and comments.
The rise of citizen journalism in China stands out for two reasons. One is that traditional media in China is less capable than its Western counterpart to fulfill its duty as an informer and watchdog protecting public interest. This is driving citizen journalism to fill the vacuum.
Another reason is that China’s political leaders emphasize the importance of citizen journalism. This is probably unseen anywhere else. When traditional media is not reliable enough to provide information about what is really going on in this country, the leaders turn to the Internet to access genuine public knowledge and opinion.
Chinese President Hu Jintao’s important speech on Chinese media last year cited the Internet as a crucial alternative to official and commercial media outlets. The insight of China’s first-generation Internet users sometimes actually surpasses the understanding of many of our experts and professors of journalism and communication on new media.
As a consequence, compared to the West where citizen journalism is a supplement to traditional media, in China citizen journalism has the potential to play a true public media role.
The prime target of China’s journalism is the unjust behavior of those in power. Numerous recent high-profile cases and scandals related to officials and rich people have been exposed by citizen journalism first, and justice was realized through the push of online public opinion.
Thus those abusing their power hate and fear citizen journalism most. They use every means to retaliate against those citizen reporters and websites that bring their misconduct to light. But it is really stupid to resist an irreversible progressive trend.
Citizen journalism has drawn a great deal of criticism. Many complain that it is unprofessional, irrational, violates individual privacy, engenders rumors, and so on.
But the benefits of citizen journalism far outweigh the problems it creates. This is the price we have to pay for holding the powerful accountable.
However, there is a need to put citizen journalism within the law’s orbit to make it less chaotic. When it is lawful to conduct citizen journalism in China, we can expect it to flourish more.
Citizen journalism has profoundly transformed the relationship between political power and media in China. Its full importance, however, will become manifest much later in the future.
When every Chinese citizen becomes a reporter, what will happen to China?
This article was compiled by Ao Lin based on an interview with the author, a professor and dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at China Youth University for Political Sciences