A Comparison between China and Hong Kong during the 2000s:
This paper claims that, for cultural reason, Chinese television has maintained its ways to function as a mass communication medium throughout years; accordingly, Hong Kong TV and society are influenced by China’s use of technology to some degree even though the city is run under “One Country, Two Systems.” After investigation, I found the claim is accurate if considering the approach of how TV presents information (especially political news) in both societies. Hong Kong and mainland Chinese society has dealt with the invention of TV in a first distinct but then a similar way (some exceptions exist) since 2000, under the influence of cultural and technical factors. Indeed, cultural factors are woven in the social environment’s background, in which they guide the application of TV’s features (especially technological) and facilitate social changes by affecting public awareness. These social changes, in terms of Hong Kong particularly, include an increase in the number of protests and of people shifting to use other media as a replacement of TV to obtain information.
As a technology of communication, television is adopted by different societies for widespread distribution of information to the public. In several nations, according to a Pew Research (2007 ch.7), almost everybody obtains information by watching TV news. For example, 96% of Chinese regard TV as their main source to understand what is occuring around their country. Since television is an important medium affecting and even shaping people’s views toward social reality, countries like China impose many regulations on television (for more information, read Time’s article: “China Imposes Harsh New Controls on Foreign-Inspired TV Shows”), especially on its delivery of political news. As a part of China and a democratic society, Hong Kong’s approaches toward TV news have changed gradually, and became more similar to the ones in mainland China in the 2000s (after Hong Kong being returned to China from Britain).
Main focus [Cause-and-Effect analysis]
This paper first discusses how China and Hong Kong adopt and respond to television in more details, as well as explains the cultural factors that shape their use of this technology. [Causes] Besides these cultural factors, the technological dimensions and media characteristics of TV transform television itself into an influence behind different social and political changes. This essay further attempts to answer, if not, to investigate how these features impact the way of spreading news on TV and in what manner such way influences political awareness as well as facilitates different social change/phenomenon in the two places. [Effects]
Prior to diving in the investigation, this part here provides a brief and selective description of Hong Kong’s history and current social dynamics, shedding a light on its relationship with China.
Hong Kong was belonged to Britain until 1997, the year when the lease expired and the whole city was given back to China. Even though the Sino-British Declaration promised that “Hong Kong system and its people’s way of life will remain unchanged for 50 years” (“Hong Kong Government and I” 2014), the use of communication technologies, such as radio and television, by the Hong Kong society has been affected during the period of gradual power transfer from Britain to China. Slowly entering the Chinese atmosphere of influence, Hong Kong’s usual way of spreading news through television to citizens, who deserve to be well-informed, has yet altered.
Both China and Hong Kong used TV when spreading information (in particular, news) in early 2000s; however, the former preferred a higher degree of media self-censorship. Although television did not always live up to the ideals crucial to democracy in Hong Kong, it faced fewer control and suppression from the government, relatively speaking. The way of how Hong Kong treated TV as a technological medium of mass communication provided freedom to objectively present nearly all types of news in front of the public.
For instance, in 2000, Hong Kong regarded “the Taiwan independence” as a legitimate topic for debate. Cable TV was therefore allowed to inform people about the debate’s pro-independence opinions by interviewing the Vice-President of Taiwan. Yet, the Chinese government did not see national reunification as a controversy open for public acknowledgement and discussion; in its eyes, Hong Kong-based Cable Television’s reporting was very “problematic.” Unlike Hong Kong television, Chinese TV acted as a government mouthpiece for decades, and its news programming was designed to promote socialist wisdom instead of “problematic” ideas that worth conversing. But since the mid-2000s, such Chinese approach started to be accepted by Hong Kong media, which “have shut the door on reporting the pro-independence views of any Taiwanese politician” (Chan and Lee, 2007). Before revealing the reason for the shift in Hong Kong’s TV use, the following will first describe why China adopted and responded to television in the above-mentioned approach from a cultural perspective.
If one would like to know what the cultural influence behind the use of TV in China is, he/she must understand the implication of media censorship. According to a recent research, “media censorship is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes” (Chen and Yang, 2018). In other words, ruling style shapes the use of TV in China, as “one of the heirs to undemocratic imperial traditions” (Kaplan, 2018). Throughout its long history, ancient China experienced the regime of many different emperors. From this past experience, modern Chinese leaders soon recognize the historical fact that imperial order brought Asia stability and harmony for hundreds of years. Hence, these leaders [like Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping] seek to reinstate and maintain peace using a more nuanced, thus socially acceptable version of imperialism — authoritarianism (Kaplan, 2018).
While in Hong Kong, which does not follow authoritarian rule in the last few decades of British rule, the recent use of television (i.e., the way of how TV should spread news, for instance, choosing what to broadcast) is influenced by “cultural co-orientation.” It is defined as a process whereby frequent interactions allow two persons or groups to know one another better, leading to “convergence in attitudes towards external objects and mutual agreement on issues” (Chan and Lee, 2007). Because of this process, Hong Kong has been more conscious about and shifted closer to the official Sino-position on television following its return to China (Wiebrecht, 2018).
Apart from cultural factors, one of the media characteristics affecting how the society responds to TV while relating to a certain social phenomenon is cost. The start-up and operating cost of television networks and stations is expensive to an extent that not everyone is able to afford. A TV network [like CCTV] requires at least $700 million dollars per year to run in China, and usually the largest source of income to cover this cost is the funding from the government (Li, 2001). Relying on government assistance, Chinese TV is under control. Such situation leads to a vacuum of public awareness regarding several political matters (social phenomenon). An example illustrating this point is the lack of TV coverage and therefore people’s acknowledgement about the death of Zhao Ziyang, China’s former leader who claimed to support pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square (for more information, read thejapantimes’s article: “Zhao Ziyang: the death of a nonperson”).
Another characteristic of TV is its rising conglomeration of ownership (which somehow results from the high entry cost to the market). In a number of big players’ hands, many Hong Kong TV organizations has been owned by businessmen favoring China as well as sharing similar economic interests and backgrounds. Basically, most of them possess close relationships with the Chinese government. This trend of concentration, accompanying with the fact that television is a “push” medium (one of the media characteristics — user control), affects Hong Kong’s use of TV for disseminating information and brings changes to the society. With reference to Zhang’s research, similar to the development of newspapers, television becomes more and more likely to exaggerate the pros and dilute the cons about the Chinese government’s policies (n.d.). A 2015-conducted report also pointed out that Hong Kong’s ability to uphold its status as a center for freedom of expression is weakened because attempts to quiet criticizing voices — specifically, TVB (the major TV company) rearranging and even firing their employees in the hope of being politically correct, as well as “targeted pressures on [other] pro-democracy [television] broadcast stations” — appear (PEN American Center).
As a result of this circumstance, democracy is no longer fully guaranteed through the adoption of TV in Hong Kong since organizations are not free from the intervention of owners and sometimes, the government (for more information, read South China Morning Post’s article: “Public outcry over rejection of Ricky Wong’s free-to-air TV licence bid”). However, slightly better than what has already happened in China, some Hong Kong people (mostly youth and professionals) start to voice their discontent over the deterioration of democratic values and their criticisms toward policies implemented by the Chinese government through social media like Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, they acquire a comprehensive and hopefully, neutral view of news on the Internet. At least in Hong Kong, these platforms are not subject to any intervention (the “Great Firewall of China” does not extend to Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems”). To some extent, political awareness is raised as soon as the public discovers the angle differences and imbalance of received information between television and other media, facilitating a change in society: as an exercise of public awareness, protests have been staged at an increasing rate in Hong Kong by those who are aware of the growing censorship on television (Yi, 2015).
Part [b]: Technological Dimensions — real-time coverage and footage of news
Indeed, the appearance of social change/phenomenon can be driven by the technological dimensions of TV as these dimensions direct how a society treats the technology.
TV is treated as a tool to reflect facets of reality and its coverage on news has caused social effects since the 2000s, by supplying its audience with real-time shots of the most intense human experiences (technical features). Events are unfolded from the moment when they occur, as well as reach people in a way that sounds and images play a significant part in affecting public view. For instance, during Hong Kong’s world-known Umbrella Movement in 2014, footage of an attack presented seven police officers using a baton to beat an activist. Together with videos of police violently forcing unarmed students to leave their venue of protest, television intensified awareness toward the city’s deeply-woven confrontation and sway people to support liberal civil rights legislations enacted in the upcoming year (Yi, 2015). On the other hand, when tapes of activists’ “irrational” acts in 2009 Ürümqi (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s capital) uprisings hit the Chinese airwaves at real time, audiences were dismayed and noticed the necessity of law and order. The scenes on TV helped create a heightened level of anti-democracy backlash in which many Chinese demanded the central administration being stricter and more conservative so as to stabilize the social unrests (Chen and Yang 2018). The technological aspects of TV allow the effective capture of events occurring around people, while such capture contributes to the emergence or reinforcement of different social phenomena in China and Hong Kong under the influence of cultural factors (and media characteristics).
All factors mentioned previously, no matter technical, social or cultural, are intertwined. Altogether they impact the way of how television being used in a society in terms of news spreading, and in return TV itself as a mass communication technology facilitates the rise of different changes/phenomena relating to public political awareness. Undeniably, the democratic development of a society is not simply advanced or halted due to the invention of TV but also attributing to our approach of applying it. Even neither technological nor cultural determinism can define a definite and clear-cut answer regarding the relationship between every technology and society, cultural determinism is more likely to be a better theory about the invention of television because it considers the environment where TV was introduced as well as provides a mechanism behind how different societies have adopted and responded to TV respectively (e.g., Hong Kong vs China).
Examining the relationship between TV and societies (i.e., Hong Kong and China), this paper particularly focuses on the technology’s role of information spreading since the 2000s. This role has been shaped by different technical (media characteristics) and cultural factors. Cultural factors such as ruling style seem to be woven in the social environment’s background, in which they guide the application of TV’s features (especially technological) and facilitate social changes by affecting public awareness. In short, this essay argues, for cultural reason, Chinese television has maintained its ways to function as a mass communication medium throughout years; accordingly, Hong Kong TV and society are influenced by China’s use of technology to some degree.