State As Salesman: International Economic Engagement and Foreign News Coverage in China
65 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017 Last revised: 22 Nov 2021
Date Written: July 20, 2021
How does an authoritarian regime cover news about foreign countries for its domestic audience? What accounts for the variation in news coverage received by different foreign countries? While existing literature points to political concerns at home, in this article, we argue that a regime's economic interests can also be a driving force: the desire to deepen its international economic engagement can motivate the regime to treat foreign countries differently in its news coverage. To test this argument, we examine foreign news coverage by China's state-run television network between 2003 and 2018. Combining textual and quantitative analysis, we find that countries with stronger economic ties with China receive more favorable news coverage. Moreover, the manipulation of coverage favorability is achieved through selective reporting: negative events such as armed conflicts receive less coverage when taking place in a country with close economic ties with China. These findings contribute to our understanding of international news flow, especially in a non-Western setting. They also demonstrate a pragmatic rather than political use of information control by an authoritarian government.
Keywords: China, media bias, information control, authoritarian politics, news flow
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