The symbolic image of the Chinese media in international communication
The impact produced by the disparities between two systems of signifiers
Micro signifiers are the means whereby the audience can gain the most immediate understanding about the media whereas the macro signifiers shape the audience’s judgment about the media, a judgment which will remain in the mind of the audience on a long-term basis. The establishment of macro signifiers must depend on the support from the micro signifiers. Without the foundation created by the micro signifiers, it would be absolutely impossible for the macro signifiers to exist. In addition, both micro signifiers and macro signifiers need to be combined and unified in order to produce the maximum effect; otherwise, conflicting media images would be produced.
The improper use of the micro system would result in the undermining of the macro signifiers. The most serious damage that can be produced is the reporting of fraudulent news. Due to the decline in the traditional social values and the formalization of the political morality, some value outlooks which run counter to the traditional social values but which used to be acquiesced and even encouraged by political morality are highly likely to come together with certain negative factors in personal value orientations. For instance, fraudulence, deception and falsification have become some of the strategies employed by many members of our society in their competitions for survival. Falsehood also characterizes the practices which many media and media practitioners resort to in order to compete against each other and to survive during this particular period of social transformation. Such practices include deception and the abuse of fake news in covert coverage.12 Even in many serious media, we can read of much unchecked fake news, such as the “paper dumpling” incident by Beijing Television and the announcement of Louis Cha’s “death” in 2010 by the official microblog of China Newsweek. It is important for us to strengthen our efforts to make our media open, transparent and prompt in news coverage. In the light of this principle, not to evade problems is an important indication of the strong sense of social responsibility that the news media must demonstrate; it is also a crucial precondition for such media to win the trust of the international audience.13 The creation of this kind of fraudulent news not only lead to negative images in the system of micro signifiers that are detrimental to the media but also violates the media’s pursuit of journalistic objectivity and impartiality in the system of macro signifiers.
Media practitioners must make proper use of the system of micro signifiers that is in keeping with the spirit of media professionalism. Journalistic professionalism exemplifies modern society’s pursuit of the value of public interest, which seeks to strike a balance between the political ideology, the market and personal interests, in addition to the pursuit of the public interest itself. This value concept, which is oriented toward the public interest, is much more persuasive and appealing on the spiritual level of the human society, playing the role of unifying the society’s collective consciousness and safeguarding the interests of the great majority of people in the society. As such, such a value is a crystallization of the collective rationality. With its emphasis on the meaning of one’s role in society and on the individual’s obligation to perform social duties, this value implicitly rejects the notion of individual as the foundation for the value of existence.14 The fabrication and the abuse of the fake news are due to two factors. On one hand, the media practitioners have failed to develop a strong sense of social responsibility, and they lack professional qualities. They would forsake the public interest of the society simply for the sake of creating sensations through publicity stunts and procuring market interests. On the other hand, they would seriously jeopardize the public credibility of the media. The establishment of this credibility starts with the micro signifiers of the media symbols and then produces impact on the macro signifiers, which further go into the making of the media image. When the meaning produced by the metalanguage symbols in the system of micro signifiers fails to match the connotative meaning produced by the symbols of macro signifiers, the media image would be seriously compromised. In other words, the disparities between the two systems of signifiers can only serve to construct a most negative media image. Therefore, in the construction of the media image, the system of micro signifiers and the system of macro signifiers should maintain a high degree of mutual consistency; that is, a particular kind of macro signifiers must be expressed by choosing the appropriate micro signifiers. Only in this way will it be possible to establish a long-term and stable media image and to better consolidate the media influence on the audience.