Foreign firms can invest in media

The Chinese government keeps a tight grip on print media and publishers — all newspapers are state-owned and are required to stick to the Communist Party line in what they print — but a senior official said this week that there may be scope for private ownership in this heavily regulated sector.

This may even involve allowing more foreign input into the media and publishing business — although not for print or TV news media, which must remain in Chinese hands, said Liu Bingjie, head of the powerful General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which controls the print media.

“Many developed countries hope to be able to enter the Chinese press and publishing business here. Our market is open. We welcome them to come to China to develop the market,” he said in a statement.

“However, our TV and news publication areas are not open, regardless of whether in new or traditional media products,” he said, adding that these areas could only be operated by Chinese companies.

The new moves would involve getting rid of administrative barriers to development and the aim was for China to build six or seven large print media groups within the next three to five years.

Opening up the print media and publishing business to Western companies could be a major development in opening up the Chinese market, but there are strict controls on what areas foreigners are allowed to take part in and the government recently introduced legislation, which will effectively stop foreign companies posting TV shows online without permission, for example.

The China market has proven seriously difficult to crack — Rupert Murdoch’s China ambitions have been repeatedly squashed despite regular efforts to boost his company’s position in a potentially huge market.

The global financial crisis meant China’s print media were finding it hard to compete with international companies, and that required allowing private capital into the industry, said Liu.

“We introduced this reform policy to speed up the development of the press and publishing industry, to allow the culture of the Chinese nation to be recognized worldwide and disseminated around the globe,” he said.

So far 52 publications have formed cooperation deals with foreign groups, and that cooperation would continue in advanced technology areas such as digital communication, Internet publishing, electronic books and electronic newspapers.

China’s press and publishing business was worth 850 billion yuan ($124 billion) last year, around 2% of the total economy, which is considerably less than in some developed countries, Liu said.

“So it should be said that we have great potential for further development,” he said.

He said 148 print media organizations operated by the central government would be required to become more market-focused. Of these, 80 had already applied for greater private participation, and the remainder would do so next year.

The Beijing government plans to set up a 50 billion yuan ($7.3 billion) fund to support small- and medium-sized publishers, including privately run cultural workshops, to address the financing problem of the publication industry.

Meanwhile, a new English-language paper published by the Communist Party, the Global Times, hit the newsstands, part of Beijing’s plan to boost China’s profile abroad and find an international audience for the party message.

The Global Times is published by the Communist Party’s main organ, the People’s Daily, which is directly controlled by the party’s powerful Central Committee.

There are already a number of English-language titles published by the state, including the China Daily and the Shanghai Daily. The titles are generally lively and increasingly well-written, and are part of a broader propaganda drive by the Chinese government to develop its global reputation. Beijing’s CCTV station also operates channels broadcasting in several different languages. The various outlets also aim to present the Communist line on issues such as democracy, human rights and Tibet.

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