The Impact of International TV Media Coverage of the Beijing Olympics 2008 on China's Media Image Formation: A Media Content Analysis Perspective

Article excerpt

Executive summary

A country's position in global competition can be influenced by its national image. Presently, mega-events (particularly those featuring sports) play a significant role in drawing media coverage and, by extension, impact on public perception. This paper aims to explain the impact of international TV media coverage of the Beijing Olympics 2008 on worldwide public perceptions of China.

This study builds on agenda-setting theory to analyse how foreign TV media telecasts of the Beijing Olympics 2008 affected perceptions of China in nine different media lands. It refers to 7,261 news stories about China, from 8 August 2007 to 24 August 2009, collected in a database and subjected to content analysis by Media Tenor International. Based on this data, the change of Visibility, Valence, Breadth and Attribution of China's international televised image are analysed.

The visibility of the host country before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games increased through TV coverage. However, it subsequently declined to a below-average level. The main contribution of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games for China has been an enhancement of understanding about the country worldwide.

It is difficult to determine whether China now has a more positive international televised image around the world than it did before the Games. Put differently, the Breadth and Attribution of China's image appears to have remained relatively stable. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that the Beijing Olympics 2008 improved China's national image directly. Indirectly, however, the international media can be said to have raised interest in the host country and helped define its national image more clearly.

This study provides findings on the effects of mega-events on the telecasted national image of a host country. Practical and theoretical implications are discussed and future research directions are provided.

Introduction

A country's position in global competition can be affected by its national image. The staging of a mega-event plays, according to current popular belief, an important role in national image formation. Some countries use mega-events, including sports events, as a core component of their destination marketing strategy to appeal to visitors. In this process, the media is the key vehicle between a mega-event and the host country's image formation. The interactions between media practices and audiences are becoming increasingly important in the shaping of public perception and meaning making (Dong et al, 2005). The latter is relevant because, in turn, media coverage shapes decision-making by both consumers and business executives. Thus, it is important for business and government leaders, as well as the public, to understand the impact of the media.

The media plays an important role in generating public interest (Cohen, 1963). Media agenda-setting refers to the deliberate coverage of topics or events with the goal of influencing public opinion. Researchers have used agenda-setting theory to determine the image of cities or corporations (Carroll & McCombs, 2003) and to examine the image of cities or countries (Rivenburgh, 1992; Avraham, 2000). However, the formation of national image consequent to mega-event staging, while relevant, has been an under-studied topic. Following Croteau and Hoynes (2003), this study considers "audiences to be active interpreters of the media rather than passive receivers". However, it also acknowledges that media audiences are members of particular cultures and inter-cultural differences can easily result in misinterpretation of the meaning of media messages. This observation is particularly relevant in the context of telecasting the Beijing Olympics 2008 from China, with its unique historical, cultural and economic background, which differs markedly from the Western social context of interpretation.

There has been increasing academic interest in the study of mega-events in relation to place image measurement in the West. …