Dr. Stephan Ortmann, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Media coverage matters for social movements. Scholarly works on western social movements suggest that proper media tactics facilitate movement mobilization, enhance legitimacy and help achieve political goals. Authoritarian governments therefore have been highly vigilant towards media agencies and imposed strict constraints on media coverage of social uprisings. Nevertheless, just as tolerating protests, authoritarian regimes may also benefit from limited media coverage of protest events because it increases information availability and allows better social management, especially in contexts where power is decentralized. This study focuses on two authoritarian regimes in which the media has reported on environmental protests albeit in very different ways. While Vietnam has allowed relatively objective reports in many different newspaper about the same incident, China has been much more restrictive and normative. This results in very different frames. The Vietnamese press generally takes a favorable view of the demands of protesters and frames issues as a failure of local corporations or officials. By comparison, the Chinese media are found to play down the protest action while devoting a large amount of space to the government announcement concerning the protest action. The Chinese critics mostly blamed the local-level governments for their negligence and irresponsibility leading to the conflicts, whereas the central government has been portrayed as responsive and capable of solving the problems at hand. In some cases, the Chinese press takes a negative view of protest activity considering protests generally as a threat to social stability. The comparative study suggests that China is more concerned about maintaining its own image while Vietnam is more tolerant toward failures in governance.