Critical journalism in China: Journalists, activists and new spaces of representation (completed)

The hegemonic role of the Chinese media is to serve as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China. Censorship takes the form of imposed sanctions and the media's self-regulation. However, the reform period has led to a diversification of the Chinese media, and the emergence of a more critical and investigative journalism. New media channels have also enabled social activists to engage the public in debates.

The project will investigate journalists and social activists’ discursive strategies to push the boundaries restricting problem-oriented reports and discussions in the public sphere.

About the project

At the heart of this project about critical journalism in China are the connections between social activists, journalists and media discourse. These linkages are formative in the development of new spaces of representation within an authoritarian political context. Media representations of social and environmental problems have a democratizing potential because they give marginalized and poor people a voice in the public sphere.

The hegemonic role of the Chinese media is to serve as the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China. Further, the argument that social stability will be endangered by unlimited coverage of social problems is used to legitimize the continued use of censorship, in the form of imposed sanctions and the media's self-regulation. The resulting boundaries not only limit the media, but also restrain social activists in their communication with the public. The project will investigate how critical journalists and activists negotiate these boundaries, and a central means to this purpose is to represent social problems through individualized narratives of suffering. The contribution of critical journalism and activism to democratization is related to its ability to mediate conflicts of interests and contention.
The project will address this issue through analyzing the communication strategies investigative and critical journalists, as well as two groups of social activists: people engaged in environmental organizations and AIDS activists.

The project will answer the following research questions:

  • How do social activists and journalists seek to expand the spaces of representation in China?
  • How do critical journalists explain their focus on people´s suffering?
  • How do representations of suffering in the Chinese media construe political responsibility?
  • How do social and environmental activists utilize the media in order to have their perspectives voiced in the public sphere?

The project has an interdisciplinary theoretical approach. The aim is to develop a perspective that is able to account for the role of social actors in shaping discourses. It combines post-structural discourse theory, geographical perspectives on the spatiality of power and scholarship on the media.


The primary objective of this project about critical journalism in China is to explore the discursive strategies employed by journalists and activists in order to create new spaces of representation.

Secondary objectives: On fieldwork; conduct interviews with journalists and social activists and conduct discourse analysis of relevant texts.


The project period is July 2009 - June 2013. Post.doc. Elin Sæther is project leader, and has spent the first year of the project on fieldwork and collecting data in China.

The project is financed by the Norwegian Research Council.

Published Sep. 2, 2010 9:23 AM - Last modified Apr. 25, 2016 12:30 PM


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