Shaping the image of Chinese media on both micro and macro levels
The system of micro signifiers is the direct sensory access whereby the audience gains understanding about the media, and the audience’s impression about a media is derived largely from their exposure to the system of micro signifiers. The media should have the ability to accurately and opportunely provide the information that the audience needs and to develop prestigious programs or presenters to attract the continuous attention of the audience. This ability will not only become a direct means to win the market share but also become an optimal way to establish the media image.
In their continuous efforts of reform in order to become increasingly integrated with the international conventions, China media have made full exploitation of the system of micro signifiers. CCTV initiated China’s first 24-hour news channel, and in 2009 set up the first quick-response reporting teams in eight major cities across the country, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc. In each of those cities, reporters are equipped with small-scale satellite transmission facilities, and there are personnel on duty around the clock. The moment an event of breaking news happens, reporters are expected to arrive on the scene within four to six hours so that CCTV’s quick-response reporting could be accelerated.15
I n the production of specific programs, CCTV has also been continuously enhancing the symbols in its system of mainstream micro signifiers. On July 27, 2009, CCTV’s news channel “Morning News” introduced, for the first time in its history, the commentator mechanism. In the studio, the presenter Hu Die had a real-time connection with the special commentator Yang Yu in which Mr. Yang offered his insights on an unfolding story. On July 30, after the first story in the CCTV Evening News was broadcast, in the bottom section of the screen there appeared a caption “Brief Commentaries by CCTV,” followed by such commentaries on individual stories. As CCTV kept restructuring and renovating its various programs, to offer brief commentaries on leading stories and breaking stories became a general practice for various news programs. The increasingly unified packaging of various channels demonstrated CCTV’s determination to follow international practices in managing its news channels.
This emphasis on the captions, subtitles and the informativeness of the images indicated that television channels no longer rely on the sounds and images as the sole means of media competition. Instead, news programs on TV started to enter the age of image-plus-format arrangement.16 In 2009, the China news program was restructured, with the requirement that the channel strive for the “first release” of any major event whenever such an event happens, with follow-up coverage of the latest developments. For major domestic stories, the reporting should not be later than the News Channel, whereas for major international stories, the reporting should try to keep abreast with that of the mainstream international media. In addition, the cycle for re-broadcasting a story should be kept within six hours.17 By making use of those micro signifiers, CCTV has demonstrated that the Chinese media are capable of applying modern communication technologies with considerable facility, are committed to the timeliness of news coverage and are ready to return to the laws of journalism. In addition, CCTV has also demonstrated that Chinese media are determined to highlight the value of journalism and maximize efforts to be prompt, updated and comprehensive in the coverage of news.
From the perspective of the macro signifiers, there exist significant differences between Chinese media and Western media in terms of the political environment, mode of management and ideology. However, they pursue the same goal of journalistic professionalism. China’s journalistic community emphasizes that truthfulness is the ultimate source of journalism whereas the Western notion of journalism emphasizes objectivity and impartiality in reporting. Those two ideals are essentially congruent and unified. Chinese media, which are subject to the supervision and regulation of the Communist Party and the Chinese government, strictly abide by the professionalism and ethical code of journalism. Moreover, as the reform in journalism keeps deepening, Chinese media have gradually learned to uphold the primacy ofjournalism itself and to respect the inherent laws ofjournalistic communication. The notion of purely propaganda-oriented journalism in the age of planned economy before the 1980s has been gradually replaced by the information-oriented journalism in this age of deepening reform and opening up.18 To respect the inherent laws of journalistic communication is a fundamental demand of the scientific outlook of development. Professionalism is the very foundation of the news media and in the environment of international communication it serves as a universal ideal, welcomed with equally intense enthusiasm by both domestic and international audiences. Therefore, to improve the image of the Chinese media, we should focus on publicizing those more positive and favorable symbols of macro signifiers.
As China keeps enhancing its national strength, its importance and influence in the international community become greater and greater. The world would like to hear the voices from China and, vice versa, China needs to express its own positons and attitudes. Therefore, it is important that Chinese media seize this opportunity and develop into an indispensable force on the international stage. As macro signifiers are directly related to the media image, we should not only try to enhance the image of the Chinese media on the basis of improved micro signifiers but also take active steps to make good use of the symbols of macro signifiers. Only when both the micro signifiers and the macro signifiers are well combined in harmonious coordination can the Chinese media become eloquent and persuasive, ultimately constructing a solid, stable and positive media image.