Media baron Rupert Murdoch on Friday called on the Chinese government to follow India’s example and open up the country’s restricted media sector.
The head of media giant News Corp urged the Chinese government “to open its digital door” just like the country had three decades ago opened up its isolated economy, and also address the widespread piracy problems that plagued media companies here.
Foreign media companies, including Mr. Murdoch’s, have had little success penetrating the Chinese media market — government regulations here restrict foreign investment in the media sector, and most media in China is State-controlled.
“India, which is far, far earlier in the economic development cycle has been more welcoming of competition,” he said, speaking at the first World Media Summit here on Friday. He said a “willingness to allow international companies in the domestic television market” had prompted local companies in India to improve quality. “The great winners are the people of India,” he said, urging China to follow suit.
Beijing has been reluctant to open up media to foreign investment, and most media organisations here are still State-owned. The selection of Beijing as the site for the first ever World Media Summit, which is being hosted by China’s State-run Xinhua news agency, raised some eyebrows among press freedom watchdogs given the continuing restriction of press freedoms in China.
But there was little mention of that here on Friday. The tenor of discussions focused more on the commercial challenges media houses faced in the wake of the financial crisis and in the digital age, reflecting the growing pull the booming Chinese consumer market has for Western media companies that are facing shrinking audiences.
The News Corp chief pointed to the widespread piracy problem in China and continuing State financing of media firms as barriers preventing the entry of “sheltered” Chinese media companies from competing on the global stage. He was joined by other media heads from companies like the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Associated Press in reiterating calls for news providers to start charging for their content on the Internet.
“The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content”, he said, referring to Internet websites and search engines that display news content from media organisations without paying for it.
Chinese President Hu Jintao told the summit his government would “enhance information distribution” and “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests” of foreign reporters in China, who often face harassment from authorities when covering politically sensitive issues.
Mr. Murdoch had advice for the Chinese President on how to deal with foreign media. “The people in this hall,” he said, referring to the 300-odd journalists in attendance, “will sometimes do the criticising. My advice is to not take it personally.”