Coverage of Fisheries and Ocean Issues Limited in China, Study Shows

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Earth Journalism Network, Hong Kong, China

In early September 2012, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) brought eight Chinese journalists to the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, where they received training from journalists and seafood experts, embarked on an intensive three-day field trip in southern China, and filed stories to their home media organizations.

Watch a video about the seafood journalism workshop:

Given the importance of China to the sustainability of global fisheries – it is the largest seafood producer in the world by a wide margin, and a major re-processor, importing fish from over 100 countries – EJN also  commissioned a long-term study of Chinese media coverage of fisheries issues. The report, carried out by researchers at Hong Kong University (HKU), analyzed Chinese publications, carried out in-depth interviews with Chinese journalists and came up with the following conclusions:

  • While environmental issues such as pollution or toxic waste have become major public concerns in China, relatively speaking, fisheries and ocean-related environmental issues are rarely covered in the Chinese news media. Even when they are covered, reporting rarely mentions scientific evidence, arguments for policy, and remedies.
  • The majority of information sources for fisheries news articles are official press conferences and announcements. Social media postings are also a common source. Information from fisheries experts or scientists is more limited. Also, environmentalist and NGO sources are not as influential as other sources cited in the sampled media articles. Among the official government information sources, there was a strong tendency to report from local government agencies as opposed to the central government.
  • Two Guangzhou-based newspapers, Guangzhou Daily and Southern Metropolis Daily, are the two major sources of news on China’s fishing industry
  • Different media outlets place various emphases on environmental concerns. Media professionals from the party-state media mainly publish press releases from the government and rarely produce original environmental news coverage, whereas those from the metropolitan media, which primarily serve more educated readers, focus on social crises triggered by environmental issues. The academic and industry media serve a tiny portion of Chinese readership – mostly experts, scholars, and technocrats – and inform the readers from a scientific stance.

Stories produced by the Chinese journalism Fellows who attended the Seafood Summit were also analyzed as part of the media study. Compared to stories from the general media, they were more likely to give arguments for policy, to provide scientific evidence, and to identify environmental problems and remedies, according to the HKU researches. When the article mentioned the environmental impact of a specific fishery policy or method, the Fellows’ stories also tended to report the news stories in balanced or negative terms.

The Fellows generally felt the opportunity to cover the Seafood Summit and receive training helped them to report more deeply on fisheries. Wang Yan from NewsChina noted, “Before the fellowship, I didn’t really consider the fisheries issues as a topic for my reporting. But now I am paying attention to angles for stories.”

However, the journalists themselves aren’t newsmakers, and as reporters they stressed that coverage of fisheries issues is tied to the actions of other stakeholders. “The Chinese fishing industry is very scattered,” says Cui Zheng who writes for the economic magazine Caixin. “Going forward, I will be looking for more domestic fisheries companies to become listed in stock markets and then we have more visible sources of information.”

The fisheries project and study was funded by the Packard Foundation’s Marine Fisheries program.

The report can be read and downloaded here:

 

Internews Earth Journalism Network Media Study of Chinese Fisheries Reporting by EarthJournalism on Scribd