Anti-CNN as Tactical Media?

When I tried to search “tactical media in China” in academic databases, I found the term of tactical media is rarely used in Chinese context, but there are several other articles describing online disobedience that draws from cultural materials, such as slang and symbols, to challenge existing powers. As said in Molly’s article, many words are given new meaning by netizens as a tactic to escape the censorship. Except for these practices and innovations of cultural symbols which could be understood as tactical media, I am also thinking about other more formal interventions. In Boler’s introduction, she mentioned the rise of Al Jazeera is the intervention that participates in the first tier of media structure. In this respect I guess in China there is no such tactical media that makes the intervention at this level. However, I do observe some groups which are temporarily self-formulated as a respond to the reporting of dominant media. The question I have for these groups is about how they can transform into more stable forms instead of just as temporary existence.

I am going to introduce a case to illustrate this form of tactical media in China, and through examining their rise and decline, I particularly ask why they can survive after the news cycle dies down. Anti-CNN was an forum founded by a group of college students who discovered that the media reports from CNN and other western media did not objectively portray 2008 Tibetan Protest. For example, some media used older footage of Nepal police beating monks to show the suppression from Chinese authority. It aroused huge anger among Chinese netizens against the fact that the discourse of the event was dominated by these western media. Often this case was thought as a manifestation of the growing neo-nationalism in China by several scholars (eg. Yang and MacKinnon). Western media first accused them of being supported by the Chinese government, but in fact they were completely self-initiated by several college students. However, they rightly pointed out this single event was not independent to other social factors. In the year of 2008, the Beijing Olympic was no longer just a sports event, but in fact for many Chinese people it was a presentation of the national identity. The disturbance of the torch relay in Paris led to another anger within domestic public sphere. These events kept the patriotic emotions of the public at a high level, and when the reports from CNN were found biased, these messages from Anti-CNN were quickly and widely circulated. For the media ecology within China, Anti-CNN might not be a typical tactical media, because in fact they reinforced the existing dominant ideology. If our perspective changes to the international ecology this type of media might be counted as one, because the dominant discourse still belongs to the mainstream western media.

Media has its own agenda, and the audience has limited media attention. After the news cycle dies down, Anti-CNN has to reposition itself. In 2009, they changed their site name into April Media and its task was not just to find the biased reports in western media, but they produced and curated news from the perspective of neo-leftist. This strategy is effective because in fact the emotion of neo-nationalism and neo-leftism in society is inevitable as long as the frictions between communist and western ideologies still exist. Now this site is one of the main places where news and views from the left are collected. The tactical media is described as temporary interventions and I wonder if the emphasis of temporary intervention has an assumption that this strategy is more impactful than the stable form after its initial “tactical” period. I think at least long term intervention such as the April Media after its initial stage of Anti-CNN suggests the oppositional discourse can be the hidden force that let the tactical media exist more consistently in the mainstream media environment.

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One thought on “Anti-CNN as Tactical Media?

  1. China’s emergence onto the digital domain of social media has demonstrated a resilience between the right and leftist movements. Clearly, I don’t have any insight into whether this is good or “bad” and whether remains a functional relationship — one in which both sides recognize themselves as equal rivals with fundamentally different perspectives. However, it does demonstrate China’s perception of itself, as a type of national identity emerging digitally in response to external observation. April Media’s attempt to find biased western media reports demonstrates that sensitivity and tendency to dismiss with indirect praise — CNN is important enough to “demand” re rebuttal. Clearly, April Media members are sensitive to Chinese perceptions in the Western media. One wonders whether this sensitivity is among an elite or whether it is a general condition. It begs the question of metrics as suggested by Pastor. I suspect that it is easier to criticize an external comment or observation than an internal comment or blog. Yet this phenomenon wouldn’t have existed a few years ago. Thus, enabling a digital discourse makes this conversation possible. Many years ago, Chinese people would not have had such easy access, nor is it likely that they would be critical of anything internally or externally. Thus, the availability of new communications channels makes this all the more easy. Beyond the easy of access, it also provides some insight into Chinese sensitivities. My only question is whether it is typical atypical of the population — right or left. David

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