Tuesday, 20 August 2019 04:12 GMT
img

Extremist mobs? How China's propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests



Author: Joyce Y.M. Nip

(MENAFN - The Conversation) As China grows more powerful and influential, our New Superpower series looks at what this means for the world – how China maintains its power, how it wields its power and how its power might be threatened. Read the rest of the serieshere .

China is known for the strict control it exercises on information, especially online. Discussion of events that might reflect unfavourably on the government is often censored, or framed in such a way that it becomes pro-government propaganda.

That's why so many Chinese citizens remain unaware of, for example, the1989 Tiananmen Square massacre .

Online discussion of therecent protestsin Hong Kong against a now-suspendedextradition billwas no different. But this was also a rare occasion when China's news propaganda machine was mobilised to simultaneously target several audiences both inside and outside China.

China's propaganda network is made up of a constellation ofdomesticandinternationalnews outlets. They span social media, mobile apps, websites and traditional media.

The news is tailored to particular audiences according to different agendas. Everything, however, comes under the direction of the Central Publicity (formerly translated as 'Propaganda') Department of the Chinese Communist Party.

Over the past few weeks, we've seen the China extradition bill elevated from a local Hong Kong controversy to a story of international concern following the protesters'lobbying campaigntargeted at the G20 summit.

As events escalated from peaceful rallies focused on a single issue to at times violent confrontations seeking a range of demands, including theresignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam , the agendas of several spheres of China's propaganda converged.

Here's how it unfolded.


China's de-facto media and new media allies in Hong Kong

The first day protesterstook to the streetswas March 31. That was two days after theextradition billwas published inthe Gazette , the official publication of the Hong Kong government.

The same day, two Chinese-language newspapers that have long acted as de-facto official media of the Chinese government in Hong Kong (but not openly declared as such) swung into action.

Wen Wei PoandTa Kung Paoboth used either the entire or the majority of the second pages in the news sections to proclaim the merits of the bill. They also, to a lesser extent, attacked the bill's opponents.


Read more:
Pressure builds with more protests in Hong Kong, but what's the end game?

These outlets are on the semi-periphery of China's propaganda machine, targeting a local audience in Hong Kong. They cannot ignore negative news about China or the Beijing-endorsed Hong Kong government, despite the fact China hasco-optedmost traditional media outlets in Hong Kong in recent decades. They seek instead to counter it with a positive spin while discrediting opposing voices.

Their messages were reinforced by relatively new digital media outlets in Hong Kong that are supportive of the Chinese regime. These outlets form the periphery of China's propaganda in the city and focus a great deal of coverage on bashing the government's perceived enemies.

After the extradition bill was published, outlets like theSilent Majority of Hong KongandHong Kong G Paopumped out positive propaganda stories about it and the Hong Kong police and negative propaganda about the opponents of the bill.

One of the three articles , published by the Silent Majority of Hong Kong on May 31, for example,attackedthe publisher of the Apple Daily Newspaper, one of few media outlets in Hong Kong that is openly critical of Beijing, for the 'nonsense' he expressed that the bill would harm press freedom.

The articles employed the outlet's usual tactics: singling out individuals and pitching them against the interests of society. Silent Majority also encourage readers to 'like' their stories, forming supportive public opinion while helping the news to spread.


China's central media outlets followed suit

The core news propaganda outlets of the Chinese state, such as People's Daily, and CCTV, didn't address the Hong Kong protests until April 17, more than two weeks later.

These outlets target the domestic audience inside mainland China, and as such, tend to ignore stories like this on sensitive subjects or those that paint the party in a bad light.

The mission of core state media is to foster a positive image of China, either for a domestic or international audience. Usually this involves reporting on China's achievements. When China comes under pressure, the core media attempt to justify the government's actions as reasonable.


Read more:
How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters

The establishment of a group in Hong Kong that supported the extradition bill gave the online edition of the People's Daily anopportunityfor positive propaganda on April 17. One story read, in part:

Targeting an international audience, the English-language China Daily dismissed concerns about the bill in aneditorialon April 29, the day after the second protest against it. Part of it read:

On June 12, protesters encircled Hong Kong's legislative chamber and clashed with police. The following day, China's national news agency, Xinhua,published a storyclaiming that the majority of the Hong Kong public supported the bill.

Then, on July 1, a group of protesters occupied Hong Kong's legislative chamber. The action drewstrongandextensive statementsofcondemnationfromChina's core propaganda outlets in the following days.


Why language matters in coverage, too

These three layers of propaganda target different audiences and operate in different information environments. They follow different tactics.

This involves using different language. The news about the extradition bill in China's core propaganda outlets is full of statements from official state agencies and other organisations that are supportive of the bill. The language is formal and repeats stock phrases, including:



  • violence

  • rule of law

  • extremists

  • stability and prosperity

  • one country, two systems

  • foreign interference

  • national security.


Read more:
The world has a hard time trusting China. But does it really care?

The same stock phrases are supplemented by more accusatory words in the semi-peripheral layer of China's news propaganda, including:



  • riot

  • terrorism

  • mob

  • independentist

  • colour revolution.

Some of the digital-only outlets on the periphery, operating in the clickbait-driven online environment, show little restraint in using abusive, colloquial language, such as by calling opposition politicians 'scoundrels.' They sometimes also fake facts and doctor images to attack opponents. This differentiates them from the traditional news media, which follow journalistic principles more closely.

Studying China's core state media alone overlooks the complementary way each layer of the propaganda machine works with the others. Using different communication tactics in different spheres, each outlet reinforces the others to create a coherent world view.

What they have in common, though, is an adherence to the main party line – and with this, the party hopes to control the message on the Hong Kong protests, even as it struggles to control the streets.

Hiu-long Chu, a Masters student of Social Work at the Australian College of Applied Psychology, contributed to this report.



    China
    Propaganda
    The New Superpower


MENAFN1507201901990000ID1098761322


Extremist mobs? How China's propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests

Authors_Square_PromoteArticle2019

  Most popular stories  

Day | Week | Month