Texted Environmental Campaign in China: A Case Study of New Media Communication

Texted Environmental Campaign in China: A Case Study of New Media Communication

Yuanxin Wang (Temple University, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4566-0.ch002
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This chapter examines how local residents were informed and rallied by the Internet and mobile phone messages for an unprecedented protest against the construction of a hazardous chemical plant in Xiamen, China, and how the municipal government responded by encouraging public participation in environmental decision making via the same communicational platforms. Using combined research methods including interviews and secondary data analysis, this research investigates the role of the Internet and cell phone message in mobilizing the general public to participate in the environmental protection movement in China. The role of Word Of Mouth (WOM) in the environmental movement is discovered for the first time. The unique mechanism of cellular telephones and the Internet in public participation involving multiple stakeholders in China’s environmental policy-making process is also discussed.
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Mass media have been a central public arena for disseminating environmental issues and contesting claims, arguments, and opinions about our use and protection of the environment (Hansen, 2010). Media products, together with perceptions of the products by its audiences, make an impact upon political decision-makers regarding a wide scope of issues related to environmental protection issues. Over the past decade, there has been a clear transition in environment communication domain: The scope for the concept of the environment has been expanded from natural phenomenon to an anthropocentric abstraction form representing the totality of nature (Walker, 2005). Communication scholars therefore need to examine the environmental issues from racial, socio-economic, political (Hansen, 2010), and cultural perspectives (Deluca, 1999; Gibbs, 1993). In other words, mass media need to approach environmental movements and organizations as a “collection of agencies making social problems claims” (Yearley, 1991, p. 52).

Communication is the central means for the general public to understand the environmental issues, and mass media has been the major platform to shape the public opinion. In other words, different media systems might result in different pattern of communication and hence the social impact under the system. There is a clear discrepancy of public opinions upon environmental issues across regions or cultures. For example, surveys conducted in England and Wales on attitudes towards the environment have shown a clear increase between 1986 and 2001 in the percentages of people who were “very worried” about a broad range of environmental issue (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2002). Similar cases are in the wider Europe Union, Latin America, Japan, and India (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2007). However, in China, the country with the largest population in the world (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2013), the awareness of environmental protection remains low (Guo & Marinova, 2011), due to the limited access to and sensitivity of the information of environmental problems. Consequently, scholarly research regarding environmental communication in China remains scarce. However, the gap in environmental awareness might shrink, as the differences of nature in occidental and oriental may be subsumed under the homogenizing influences of globalization (Hansen, 2010).

Mass media also influence the pattern of their users’ information-seeking behaviors. Scholars have been focusing on the use pattern of new media (the Internet and mobile phone) audience. For example, how do the interest group and stakeholders of environmental issues probe computer-mediated communication forms for environmental information and organizing campaigns. In many countries, the Internet has become an instrument for increasing public participation in environmental decision making (Scharl, 2004), as some forms of online communication, such as Bulletin Board System (BBS) Forum and Blogs, have been adopted for the discussion of environmental concerns (Ma, Webber, & Finlayson, 2008). Additionally, some mass media also provides opportunities for environmentalist groups, rather than government sources or representatives of officialdom, to become more significant primary definers of the mass media’s agenda (Abraham, 1995). However, much attention has been given to the communicational function of the Internet alone. The role of mobile phone in promoting environmental campaigns is relatively understudied.

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