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Journalist Fellows' Papers

The international media coverage of China: Too narrow an agenda?

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Daniel Griffiths, a senior journalist at the BBC World Service and a former China correspondent, has carried out detailed content analysis of how China was represented in the online sites of the New York Times, BBC News and the Economist over two separate weeks in the autumn of 2013.

In his paper, 'The international media coverage of China: Too narrow an agenda?' Daniel writes that: "China is an increasingly important player in global affairs but there is very little research on how it is presented in the international media. This matters because even in today's increasingly interconnected world the media can often influence our perceptions of other countries." 

The paper is a snapshot, but it is intended to open a discussion about representations of China in the global media and pave the way for further research.

Here are some of the main conclusions and recommendations from Daniel’s paper:

  • Current coverage is dominated by just five themes suggesting a narrow news agenda: the economy, politics, foreign affairs and national security, human rights and the environment.
  • These five areas accounted for 107 stories or 83% of all China coverage during the weeks analysed.
  • Just two areas - politics and economics - account for more than half of all stories covered.
  • Specific narratives dominate certain sectors. For example, nearly half of all political coverage involves stories about elite corruption.  More than three quarters of all environment stories concern pollution.
  • Issues reflective of a broader agenda such as society and social change, culture, or science and technology receive minimal coverage.
  • There is also limited coverage of areas outside the main population hubs on the east coast of China. The actors in most stories are individuals or organisations from the worlds of business and politics.
  • Current China coverage includes topics that are obviously important and need to be reported. However, the current China news agenda appears to be fairly narrow and is perhaps missing important narratives that might also help to explain the enormous transformation currently underway in China.


  • Establish more correspondents in locations outside the "traditional" east coast centres of Beijing and Shanghai, albeit in the face of tough budgets for foreign news and tight Chinese government regulation. The obvious locations might be Guangzhou in southern China and Chongqing in the southwest.
  • Pitch and commission more stories that move beyond conventional themes and locations.
  • Consider commissioning ideas from individuals and groups outside the organisation, subject to all the usual editorial and other checks. This already happens with factual documentaries. Why not in news?
  • Encourage journalists both in China and outside to embrace a broader news agenda.

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.