China 2.0: The New Digital Superpower

Photo: AJ Libunao
Photo credit: AJ Libunao

Do you see China emerging as the new world digital superpower?

China is already a digital superpower. The sheer size of the Chinese digital economy has made the country a leading producer and consumer of digital products. At the end of 2013, Chinese Internet users numbered 618 million – more than 45 per cent of the population. About 500 million people use some form of social media as many leapfrog to access the Internet via mobile devices, bypassing desktop and laptop computers.

With so many users, how is social media changing the journalism landscape in China?

Social media, while heavily censored, have created space for public expression and a platform for the creation of independent online media. In China, reporters and editors could be fired or jailed for doing their job and telling the truth. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, China remains one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists. As of December 1, 2013, 32 journalists were in jail in China.

Will we continue to see a growing number of Internet users and emerging digital platforms? What will this mean for journalists? What will this mean for businesses in the West?

In 2014, mobile media will take centre stage as the platform for journalism innovation and experimentation. For Chinese media, the debate on print vs. digital will finally be put to rest as media owners and managers scramble to find ways to transform legacy, or traditional, media and expand digital.

While the government will continue to clamp down on expression and dissent, journalists and the public will find smart ways to cope. Digital tools and outlets will multiply, offering an ever-growing space for expression. Internet behemoths like Tencent and Alibaba will expand outside China along with state-owned party media. Opportunities are opening up for those who are bold enough to take on the high risks of investing in China’s media.

You have been a journalist for over three decades – what is the one story you are proudest of?

In 1996, I collaborated with a journalist in Taiwan to report on proposed illegal contributions from Taiwan to former US President Bill Clinton’s election campaign.

After our story appeared in a Hong Kong weekly news magazine, we were sued for criminal libel by the Kuomintang, Taiwan’s then-ruling party. I organized a campaign against the suit and won with the help of supporters around the globe. The court’s decision has set a precedent for Taiwan by establishing that journalists would not be at risk for libel if they could prove “good intent” in their reporting.

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