Media Products as Law: The Mass Media as Enforcers and Sources of Law in China

By Lee, Tahirih V. | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Media Products as Law: The Mass Media as Enforcers and Sources of Law in China


Lee, Tahirih V., Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


INTRODUCTION

Government propaganda so permeates Chinese society, it is impossible to escape its reach. Given this fact, the relationship between law and propaganda is an important subject for study. To my knowledge, it has not been studied before now, except in my previous examination of the relationship between the media and China's legal bureaucracy. In that study, I found that the legal bureaucracy is closely aligned with the state-run media, and that the commercialization of the last two decades of the twentieth century did not loosen this connection, at least with respect to laws that fall into a realm labeled "political." (1) In this study, I probe more deeply the problem of how closely bound propaganda and law are in China.

"In the People's Republic of China ("PRC'), the texts of major national statutes (falu) and regulations (guiding) are published in the primary Chinese Communist Party newspaper, The People's Daily (Renmin ribao)." (2) Clearly these publications are "law" in the sense that they are officially enacted as laws, but what about other media transmissions? Print and broadcast media operated by the state also contain reports of official interpretations of the law, and reports about the implementation of law and about matters that are regulated by PRC law. Can these media transmissions also be considered law?

This study attempts to determine whether and how the print and television media in the PRC function as law. In Part I, I survey law and media in the PRC to determine whether, as a historical and institutional matter, products of PRC media might be considered part of China's "legal system" or "sources of law." It is not difficult to make the case that state-run media are part of the legal system of China, particularly when the current apparatus is placed in historical context. It is more of a stretch, however, to argue that media transmissions are authoritative sources of law. Courts in China do not cite them in published opinions, nor do China's legal

experts view them as authoritative in a formal sense. When Chinese law is viewed in its historical and social context, however, it becomes clear that media transmissions about law carry a great deal of authoritative weight. Mass media in China have been disseminating central policy since the Ming Dynasty. (3)

Though no one else has published the argument that connects media to law in this way, the theories of several sociologists provide support for the general notion that law achieves its power by the way that it is communicated in society to individuals. Emile Durkheim, Michel Foucault, Edward Epstein, and Carole Nagengast define the phenomenon of law as something that is broadcast to shape behavior. (4) This view helps to situate law within Chinese society and makes it easier for us to understand the authoritativeness of any type of official communication about law in China.

I use a case study to examine the hypothesis--that the mass media in China both enforce the law and provide authoritative sources of law--produced by this historical and theoretical survey of the legal role of the media in the PRC. The study is comprised of a discursive analysis of transmissions of the state-run news agency Xinhua, two major legal newspapers ran by branches of the Ministry of Justice, and other official materials. Two samples of transmissions are used, each of which include popular and internal Party treatises, all of which touch on the regulation of procreation, marriage, divorce, and care of the elderly. Drawn randomly from several of the newspapers with the widest circulation in China, one sample was collected from 1984, and the other sample was collected from 1995 through the first half of 1996. Excluded are the exclusively electronic transmissions by the government that have become a part of its communication with the people of China, such as descriptions of events that appear unsolicited on cell phones. …

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