Tang, Wenfang and Shanto Iyengar (Eds.). Political Communication in China: Convergence or Divergence between the Media and Political System?

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Tang, Wenfang and Shanto Iyengar (Eds.). Political Communication in China: Convergence or Divergence between the Media and Political System? London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2012. Pp. vi, 137. ISBN 13:978-0-415-52266-3 (cloth) $125.00.

This volume is brief but a relatively up-to-date reading of what the relation of China's Communist Party (CPP) and government is to the technology driven communication system and what the future holds for the political system in these circumstances. That is a tall order for what was a reprint of a relatively brief special issue of the journal Political Communication in 2011. The concise introduction by two well known political scientists and communication scholar (Iyengar) is clear and to the point. The advantage of such a succinct summary of recent research is that it brings the reader a current reading of the situation of freedom of speech in an authoritarian regime as well as a largely quantitative approach to answering this question with data from China's mainland territory. The book should appeal to journalists as well as political scientists and scholars of political communication.

In the first article, a Dutch political scientist studies how the marketization of Chinese media (those depending not on state subsidies but reader interest and support) is related to the increasingly negative coverage of the U.S.A. in Chinese media. With a blend of both qualitative and quantitative methods, the author makes a compelling case for seeing a causal connection between newly marketized media creating negative news about the U.S.A. when they focus on non-sanctioned (state approved) topics because the state is less interested in how these topics are treated and negative coverage may encourage attention by more readers. on the contrary, sanctioned topics are covered more in official publications and news seems less negative on the whole. The bind for Chinese marketized papers is to try to appeal to both reader interests in negative news about the U.S.A. and to conform to the Propaganda Department's support of the government's foreign policy dictates.

The article by Lei Ya-Wen is perhaps the strongest endorsement of the optimistic theories of the democratic influence of the Internet. Using a representative national sample in the China World Value Survey (2007), the author argues for the position that the large number of Internet users are more politically involved and better informed than the non-users. He makes careful statistical arguments for this conclusion's validity. This is the first analysis of a nationally representative sample to make the case for the Internet mutually causing more political involvement of users as well as the other causative factor of self-selection by already politically motivated users. In brief, this conclusion fits into a number of researchers supporting the notion that the continued spread of the Internet will move China toward a more democratic society.

The third article is on the standards of communications between politicians and journalists in Taiwan since the loosening of restrictions in 1986 by the KMT and the first opposition president elected in 2000. The authors (an English researcher and a Taiwanese graduate student) used in-depth semi-structured interviews (22 in all) among politicians/their intermediaries, and journalists to gather information about the nature of political communication in the 2008 national elections. The conclusion is that Taiwan is seen as a young democracy whose politicians and journalists have not yet understood how to negotiate the norms of political reporting. It is further argued that this "knowledge deficit" theory of emerging democracies is complicated by the simultaneous rising commercialization of media in Taiwan that also promotes sensationalism and political partisanship. …