Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Social Construction of International Imagery in the Post-Cold War Era: A Comparative Analysis of U.S. and Chinese National TV News

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Social Construction of International Imagery in the Post-Cold War Era: A Comparative Analysis of U.S. and Chinese National TV News

Article excerpt

The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in the former Soviet Union in 1991 represented a dramatic change in the world's geopolitical landscape. It ushered in the beginning of the end of the Cold War between the Western democracies and the Soviet-dominated Eastern Communist block. This reconfiguration of the global structure undoubtedly shifted the power balance in international relations and coverage of the key players in foreign and domestic news around the world (e.g., Matlock, 1993). As editors of a 1993 issue on "Global News after the Cold War" in the Media Studies Journal succinctly put it, "For the media, the goal is to catch up with the world's changes and to develop a new overarching structure for covering news after the Cold War" (Vol. 7, p. xii). Among other things, the need for an overarching structure compels the media to make sense of a "brave and scary new world" (Heuvel, 1993), to seek "new opportunity for broadened coverage" (Graham-Yooll, 1993), to question "assumptions about coverage" (Gwertzman, 1993), and to call for "new ways of reporting" the post-Cold War world reality (Boccardi, 1993).

Either by design or by default, the United States, the world's remaining superpower, and China, the last Communist stronghold and the world's most populous country, are often brought into a post-Cold War power equation. To be specific, the "absence of clear, steady cues from Washington" makes the news media's reporting task more difficult (Hoge, 1993, p. 2) and in China, "old constructs are inadequate" in that the unpredictable society requires "a flexible and sophisticated journalistic perspective" (Tefft, 1993, p. 62). In international communication, the two countries' views of the world and of each other thus have practical and theoretical significance in post-Cold War news flow across national borders. Within the perspective of social construction of reality, the purpose of this paper is to examine the form and content of socially constructed international imagery in the United States and China and to assess their implications for better understanding the processes and structure of mass communication.

Comparative international communication research has long allowed researchers to study how the flow of news across national borders "fits in with [people's] images of themselves and others" and what influences that process in different cultural contexts (Lazarsfeld, 1976, p. 489). Since the 1950s, notwithstanding the "landslide proportions" of the literature in international communication (Hur, 1982, p. 531), comparative research has not only lagged far behind case and area studies, but failed to provide systematic insights into the social workings of mass media at the international level. Theoretically and methodologically speaking, much remains to be done in international comparative research (e.g., Blumler, McLeod, & Rosengren, 1992; Edelstein, 1982). Using social construction of reality as a conceptual framework (e.g., Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Tuchman, 1978), this comparative analysis examines news in general and specific events in particular. Both are important in studies of national mass media systems in an increasingly integrated international environment (e.g., Rosengren, 1970).

Because the causal process that produces television news imageries varies from country to country as a result of different political, social, economical, and cultural conditions, it is often difficult to specify whether mass communication phenomena in one social unit can be effectively compared to that in another (Oyen, 1990; Smelser, 1976). The emphasis in this study is on the place or location of the news in the social structure, both national and international, that serves as the basis of its presentation and interpretation. Underpinning this sociological approach is the conceptualization that our perspective of the world is very much determined by where we may stand and the "range of vision" available to us (Blau, 1975). …

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