How can authoritarian regimes effectively control information to maintain regime legitimacy in times of crisis? We argue that media framing constitutes a subtle and sophisticated information control strategy in authoritarian regimes and plays a critical role in steering public opinion and cultivating an image of competent government during a tremendous crisis. Using structural topic models (STM), we conduct a textual analysis of more than 4,600 news reports produced by seven Chinese media outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic. We find that Chinese media, instructed by the propaganda authorities, used a heroism frame to feature frontline medics’ sacrifices when saving others in need and resorted to a contrast frame to highlight the poor performance of the United States in the fight against COVID-19. We also show that both state and commercial media outlets used these two frames, though the tone of commercial media coverage was generally more moderate than the state media version.
|Number of pages||25|
|Journal||Journal of East Asian Studies|
|Early online date||30 Mar 2022|
|Publication status||Published - Jul 2022|
Bibliographical noteWe thank Editor Stephan Haggard as well as two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions. We also thank Jamie Druckman for his valuable comments.
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the East Asia Institute
- Authoritarian regimes
- information control
- text analysis