Speaking with the State’s Voice: The Decade-Long Growth of Government-Authored News Media in China under Xi Jinping

165 Pages Posted: 2 May 2024

See all articles by Hannah Waight

Hannah Waight

New York University

Yin Yuan

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Margaret E. Roberts

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - 21st Century China Center

Brandon M. Stewart

Princeton University - Department of Sociology

Date Written: April 30, 2024

Abstract

Autocratic governments around the world use clandestine propaganda campaigns to influence the media. We document a decade-long trend in China towards the planting of government-authored articles in party and commercial newspapers. To examine this phenomenon, we develop a new approach to identifying scripted propaganda—the coerced reprinting of lightly-adapted government-authored articles in newspapers—that leverages the footprints left by the government when making media interventions. We show that in China, scripted propaganda is a daily phenomenon— on 90% of days from 2012-2022, the vast majority of party newspapers include at least some scripted propaganda at the direction of a central directive. On particular sensitive days, the amount of scripted propaganda can spike to 30% of the articles appearing in major newspapers. We show that scripted propaganda has strengthened under President Xi Jinping. In the last decade the front page of party newspapers has evolved from 5% scripted articles to nearly 20% scripted. This government-authored content throughout the paper is increasingly homogeneous—fewer and fewer adaptations are done by individual newspapers. In contrast to popular speculation, we show that scripted content is not only on ideological topics (although it is increasingly ideological) and is also very prevalent in commercial papers. Using a case study of domestic coverage of COVID-19, we demonstrate how the regime uses scripting to shape, constrain, and delay information during crises. Our findings reveal the wide- ranging influence of government-authored propaganda in the Chinese media ecosystem.

Suggested Citation

Waight, Hannah and Yuan, Yin and Roberts, Margaret E. and Stewart, Brandon M., Speaking with the State’s Voice: The Decade-Long Growth of Government-Authored News Media in China under Xi Jinping (April 30, 2024). 21st Century China Center Research Paper No. 2024-4, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4812826 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4812826

Hannah Waight

New York University ( email )

New York
United States

Yin Yuan

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

Margaret E. Roberts (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - 21st Century China Center ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive #0519
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

Brandon M. Stewart

Princeton University - Department of Sociology ( email )

Princeton, NJ
United States

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