An Analysis of China’s National Image in BBC News. A Perspective of News Framing

Thesis (M.A.) 2015 87 Pages

Communications - Media and Politics, Politic Communications





List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

1.1 Introduction and Background
1.2 Problem Statement
1.3 Research Justification
1.4 Scope of Study
1.5 Limitation of the Study
1.6 APEC Summit and Occupy Central Protest
1.6.1 APEC Summit
1.6.2 Occupy Central

2.1 China’s Image
2.2 China’s Presence in the World
2.3 The Characteristics which constitute News Framing
2.4 The British- Chinese Connection
2.6 Research Questions

3.1 Framing History, Theory and Typology
3.2 Framing Effects in News Media and Communication
3.3 Agenda Setting History and Relevance
3.4 Justification of Theories

4.1 Research Method
4.2 Coding and Categorization
4.3 Data Analysis
4.4 Sampling
4.4.1 Sampling Technique
4.4.2 Sample Size

CHAPTER 5 RESULTS and ANALYSIS (BBC News reports on the two events)
5.1 Content Analysis of APEC CEO Summit
5.1.1 China Threat
5.1.2 Environmental Degradation (pollution)
5.2 Content Analysis of Occupy Central
5.2.1 The most dominant themes/categories
5.2.2 Other categories/themes which emerged from the facts of the data
5.2.3 Length of Articles




Appendix A: Coding Units
Appendix B: Categories, Definitions and Examples
Appendix C: Themes identified for Occupy Central and APEC Summit
Appendix D: Examples of Images used in BBC News Reports of OC


I continually thank God, for the opportunity to pursue my academic dreams and for the people He has placed in various positions to be of help to me throughout this journey. I could not have finished this challenging endeavor without His blessings and grace. To the special people who have helped me personally and academically, I extend my utmost gratitude to you

The faculty of the Institute of Communication Studies of Communication University of China, I have gained a wealth of knowledge from your teachings and academic advice. Specifically, I express sincere thanks to Professor Zhang Kai for being my supervisor, without your commitment, guidance and frequent advisement this thesis could not have been completed. Special thanks to the Government of Grenada and to The People’s Republic of China for awarding this valuable scholarship to me

To my family, thanks for your support, prayers and encouragement throughout this journey; special mention to my mom, my sister Maurisa and to my brother Kerry. To my nephews, and my niece, daily thoughts of you lifted my spirits and motivated me greatly. To my friend Stacey-Ann Simon for your assistance in the retrieval process of the news reports. Sherene and Candelle thanks for proofreading and editing. And, to all my other friends, especially Olivia, Jemal, Shanice, Silker, Nasir and James, I am sincerely thankful for your support, motivation and friendship


An Analysis of China’s National Image in BBC News: A Perspective of News Framing

Melisa Ruth Asheida Charles, M.A International Communication

Communication University of China (2015)

Supervisor: Zhang Kai

This thesis aims to analyze how BBC News frames China’s National Image. The general objectives are to determine the most dominant frames used and to identify the motives behind the choice of frames used. This study, through the use of qualitative content analysis looks at all BBC News online reports on APEC CEO Summit 2014 and Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong. Framing and Agenda–Setting communication theories were researched and used throughout the study. This study is significant because it contributes a new perspective to the academic discussion on Western media framing process of China’s National Image. This study found that China’s National Image is represented unfavorably by BBC News and that the frames used were dependent on the specific event. Moreover, this research found that BBC News reporting of both events was bias, which can be attributed to journalists’ routine practices and organizational ideology regarding BBC News reporting on China-related events. This discourse is relevant and important. It provides valuable insights to contemporary China about BBC news’ representation of its image. Given the findings, it is fair to assert that BBC News, through its reporting on China-related events aims to misrepresent the image of China. The results may encourage further discussion on the existing phenomenon about Western media framing of China

Keywords: [China’s National Image] [News Framing] [Agenda-Setting] [ Frames] [BBC News]

List of Tables

Table 1 Headlines and corresponding length (word count) of APEC Summit news articles

Table 2 Headlines and corresponding length (word count) of Occupy Central news articles

List of Figures

Figure 1. Studies Published on Agenda Setting and Framing theories

Figure 2. Categories Identified During Analysis (Apec Summit)

Figure 3. Categories Identified During Analysis (OC)

Figure 4. The Length of News Reports on Apec Summit by BBC News

Figure 5. The length of News Reports on Occupy Central by BBC News

Figure 6. The Length of News Reports: a comparative display of both events

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt


1.1 Introduction and Background

Media portrayal of a country’s national image plays a pivotal role in how that country is viewed and perceived on the international stage. Before I came to China, the image I had of China was mainly shaped by western media news networks, predominantly BBC. Thus, the perceptions were primarily negative. Following my stay as a student in Beijing, it became apparent that China-related news as represented by Western media do not reflect the reality of China, but rather reflect a reconstruction of the truth. Personal observations revealed noticeable vast differences between the actual image of China and the image of China depicted in Western media. And as such, motivation to undertake this study was developed.

In 2008, millions of viewers watched the media covered the Beijing Olympics. Grenada was no exception, as two of its nationals made their debut appearance on a global sports stage. I was baffled at the coverage of Western media. It can be argued that the athletics did not receive their fair share of the spotlight in the media coverage of the event. Rather, China’s National Image did, but in an unfavorable way.

The National Image of The People’s Republic of China has become a favorite topic of discussion and analysis by many scholars and researchers globally.[1] This discussion arises because “China’s rapid development has brought about complicated reactions and a variety of different images of China within the global arena” (Meng, Chen & Pei, 2013).

In this thesis a critical analysis of China’s National Image (hereafter referred to as CNI) as framed and represented by BBC News is the focal point with specific focus on BBC News coverage of the APEC CEO Summit 2014 and China’s Occupy Central protest 2014. The purpose of using these two events is to examine how they were used in BBC News reporting to portray the image of China. Empirically, local Chinese media news content of both events differed enormously from the content in BBC News coverage, which ignited curiosity for this research.

This critical study employs the Framing and Agenda Setting theories. The concept of news framing is widely used in media research particularly in the fields of communication, sociology, and political science (Reese, 2001). According to Entman (1991) news frames are not realized in the obvious assessable text or content but news frames are in “the keywords metaphors, concepts, symbols, and visual images emphasized in a news narrative” (p.7).

Frames are used by the media to highlight to audiences the events and issues that are more important and worthy of their attention. Frames that constantly appear in the content of media messages can be interpreted as a conscious effort by the media, media professionals, and their sponsors to attract audience’s attention.

Neuman, Just, and Crigler (1992) concluded that the media “give the story a ‘spin’ taking into account their organizational and modality constraints, professional judgments, and certain judgments about the audience” (Neuman et al., 1992, p.120). In essence, there is construction of reality by operators of mass media. This ‘spin’ is aimed at twisting the reality of the news.

Does China care about the way in which its National Image is represented and viewed, particularly by international media audiences? One researcher argues that “China’s greatest strategic threat today is its national image. For one of the few times in history, this famously inward looking nation is vulnerable to how it is seen abroad” (Ramo, 2007, p.12). As such, it can be concluded that, like other countries, the Chinese government is concern about the country’s National Image and how it is represented abroad, hence “China’s ambitious efforts to polish its national image” (Xie & Page, 2013).

In an article about world news channels rankings by Digvijaya Singh for TopYaps, BBC is listed as number one among the top ten. Singh (2014) points out that BBC is “the largest news broadcaster of the world and the most common household name.” BBC is broadcasting in English 24 hours a day in many countries across the world and its news content is available in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, around 300 million households and 1.8 million hotel rooms (Inside the BBC, 2014).

This thesis has three main objectives: (1) to systematically analyze BBC News reports of APEC Summit 2014 and Occupy Central protest 2014, (2) within the context of this analysis, to examine BBC News representation of CNI and (3) this research aims to identify the meanings associated with and the motives behind the frames used in the messages by BBC News to represent CNI.

This research intends to make two contributions to the field of communication and media research. (1) It contributes to the theoretical discussion of news framing with specific emphasis on media coverage of two major communicative events which received high media exposure. (2) It zeroed in on one Western news network, BBC, in an effort to analyze its representation of China in the 21st century, which addresses the phenomenon of Western media reporting of China. Both contributions address the gap in relation to the lack of studies on BBC News framing of CNI.

1.2 Problem Statement

It has been concluded by many that China’s National Image as presented in Western media, seldom resembles the reality and is often unfavorable. This study does not dispute this conclusion; however, the problem is that CNI is usually studied from a general standpoint or from a comparative analysis standpoint. As such, studies on news framing of major events to analyze CNI as represented by a specific Western news network (BBC) are lacking.

1.3 Research Justification

As the researcher embarked on studies in China, preexisting knowledge did not equate the reality experienced. The researcher’s preexisting knowledge about China’s Image was primarily influenced by news content from the international media. In terms of international sources of news, BBC News is among the highly regarded and widely viewed in Grenada.

One month after the researcher’s arrival in China, the ‘ buzz words’ in international news media was Occupy Central protest. Two months later, APEC Summit was a frequent headliner in both Chinese media and international media. Strong interest in global news and events coupled with the news salience of those two events, led the researcher to keep in constant update with the developments of both events, which evidently received extensive media coverage. In the process of keeping abreast with the event, it became obvious that BBC News coverage of both events, contradicts the coverage in Chinese media[2]. The differences in the news coverage arouse research interest and motivated curiosity. Moreover, academic research interest was strengthen based on the researcher’s study area—communication and journalism. Literature reviewed, build research confidence.

There has been growing interest in CNI as a central focus for framing analysis, specifically by Western media. China’s unprecedented economic growth and global presence has sparked international recognition and scrutiny of its national image. This research has practical and academic relevance because it contributes a refreshing outlook to the discussion of CNI phenomenon. Therefore, the basis of this research is to analyze the portrayal of two events in BBC News, to find the way in which they were framed to represent CNI.

1.4 Scope of Study

This study uses two China-related events to bring to the forefront how BBC News framed both events to represent CNI. This research is being undertaken to better understand how CNI is framed by BBC News, one of the most popular Western media networks in the world. Moreover, both the APEC Summit 2014 and the Occupy Central protest attracted global media interest which depicts the news significance they both received.

News reports for this research are drawn from BBC News official website which has an archive of all BBC News reports. All the available articles on both events dated within the time period September 1st, 2014 to December 1st, 2014 were selected and critically analyzed. The reasoning behind this study is to show how BBC News capitalized on major events to push forward its frames and its agenda. This research expects to discover through the use of research method content analysis and the framing and agenda-setting theories, a clear and accurate picture of BBC’s representation of CNI.

1.5 Limitation of the Study

The predicted study limitations are as follows:

1. In an effort to comprehend how CNI is framed by BBC news, it is essential to comprehend why certain frames are used by BBC News to represent the image of China. However, lack of sufficient resources made it impossible to gather direct responses from BBC reporters, journalists or members on BBC governing board.
2. Although CNI has been extensively studied, existing literature is not available on news framing of CNI by BBC News, thus research for relatable existing data was unsuccessful.
3. The absence of a combined approach--quantitative and qualitative content analysis to the study which according to Macnamara (2007) is the ideal approach to media content analysis.
4. It would have been ideal to supplement content analysis with critical discourse analysis to better analyze the motives behind the frames journalists used in their reporting of both events. Absence of critical discourse analysis may reflect weaknesses in the research.

1.6 APEC Summit and Occupy Central Protest

1.6.1 APEC Summit.

APEC CEO Summit commenced in 1996 as a debut event to attract economic and business leaders in and around Asia-Pacific and it is the most decisive event in the APEC Leader’s Week (China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, CCPIT, 2015).

On November 8th -10th 2014, leaders from within and outside the membership gathered in Beijing for the 22nd APEC CEO Summit, held annually since its inception. There was remarkable transformation in Beijing as it prepared to host this very important gathering with a guest list of some of the world’s most influential figures under the theme “New Vision for Asia Pacific: Creativity, Connectivity, Integration, Prosperity” (CCPIT, 2015).

1.6.2 Occupy Central.

Occupy Central commonly called the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ or the ‘Occupy Central with Peace and Love Movement’ “is a civil disobedience movement which began in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014.”[3] Pro-democracy leaders of the protest called on thousands of protesters to block roads and paralyze Hong Kong's financial district if the Beijing and Hong Kong governments do not agree to implement universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 and the Legislative Council elections in 2020 according to "international standards."

Some onlookers on the international front have been accused of pushing forward the movement’s agenda through funding and direct interference. An article titled ‘US Now Admits it is Funding “Occupy Central” in Hong Kong’ by Tony Cartalucci (2014) revealed that similar to other international protests, the U.S has admitted to providing support for OC in an effort to destroy the rise of China and to promote democracy internationally.

The article also points out that “the regressive agenda of “Occupy Central’s” US-backed leadership, and their shameless exploitation of the good intentions of the many young people ensnared by their gimmicks, poses a threat in reality every bit as dangerous as the “threat” they claim Beijing poses to the island of Hong Kong and its people.”[4]

Although the movement saw massive support and participation, it was strongly opposed by many as was disclosed by the anti-occupy central petition which received 800, 000 signatures in just three days urging from police intervention, clearing of roads and that Hong Kong be return to a state of normalcy.[5] The months long protest resulted in multiple arrests, residents inconvenienced because the transportation system, business activities were disrupted, and protesters injured in clashes with police.


In this chapter, the national image of China in terms of how China is perceived domestically and globally is discussed and analyzed based on reviewed literature. Another part discusses China’s development process by highlighting China’s presence in the world. Given the fact that this thesis focuses on news framing, this chapter also features a section on the possible characteristics which constitutes framing aligned with the research questions of this thesis.

2.1 China’s Image

The year 1839 was a milestone for China. Commissioner of Canton, Lin Zexu did something that was considered out of character for anyone; he wrote a letter to Queen Victoria. The Letter of Advice to Queen Victoria intended to seek the Queen’s help as China’s then ruler Dao Guang “was determined to eliminate the trade in opium” (Ramo, 2007, p. 5). According to Ramo (2007) the act of writing this letter was met with “arrogance in Western eyes” Western media said “Who would dare advise Queen Victoria.” Therefore, he concludes that “Lin’s letter, read carefully and with a sense of context, can be seen as a signal of a horrifying historical fault line: China’s image of herself and the rest of the world’s image of her had ruptured like tectonic plates” (Ramo, 2007, p.7).

CNI continues to be portrayed unfavorably in Western media. Generally, audiences’ knowledge of China is orchestrated by Western media. The picture that world audiences have in their minds about China is that it is “a land of Mao-suited citizens,” “the last surviving large communist country on earth,” it is prevalent with gong-fu and Fu-man chu” (Ramo, 2007, p.13). The unfavorable portrayal is shaped by the subjectivity of journalists and their lack of understanding China first hand. Objective attitudes and gradual changes to originally formed prejudices against China surfaced “in the process of communicating with China Olympic volunteers and Chinese citizens” (Luo, 2009, p.112). This observation by Luo suggests that objectivity in news reporting is somewhat linked to reporters’ personal encounters with a country or its citizens. Additionally, China’s rise to global status is met with conflicting perceptions, “the positive view sees China as a rising global superpower, whilst the other sees it as a threat to the West in a multitude of ways” (He, 2010, p.12).

CNI is comprehensive in nature, thus, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of what it embodies. Researcher Bob Wekesa (2012) cited Fork and Catherine (2010) as saying “a scan of country image studies confirms the image of China as a country with immense and growing influence globally with an impact on cross cutting issues from environment to economic issues” (Wekesa, 2012, p. 2). This paper argues for the inclusion of social and human rights issues given the fact that those issues play an essential role in the description of CNI in Western media. Ramo (2007) in his discussion of ‘Brand China’ suggests that “a clear image also provides foreigners with a way to think about the emergence of a nation that will inevitably cause some international friction” (Ramo, 2007, p. 19).

Qing, Hong-jiang, Ting-ting, Xiao-ru, Rui and Ping-ping (2009) suggest that “a good national image is an impressive ticket for a country to enter the international stage” (p.44), given the fact that China is now a key global player, its national image is significant for global recognition. Scholars Xie and Page (2013) conclude that “national image presumably results from a combination of objective facts about a country, image projection by that country, and interpretations and even constructions of facts about that country by the mass media and other actors in foreign countries” (2013, p.855).

The media field is like a battleground and the fittest or most powerful are the ones that survive, as the scholars assert, the winners successfully communicate the projection of their images which is accepted by international audiences contrary to the losers, who watch without input as their images are projected and defined by others (Xie & Page, 2013).

As it relates to the communication of China’s identity, China no longer adopts a passive and acceptable approach but a strong and proactive approach. Xie and Page (2013) assert that the promotional video called ‘Experience China’ which was shown 300 times a day on huge screens at New York City Times Square on January 2011 and a similar 60-second promo video which was launched one month later, are examples of China’s efforts to communicate to world audiences, a favorable and different image of China.

These scholars conclude that “these two publicity videos exemplify China’s ambitious efforts to polish its national image” (Xie & Page, p.851). Off course, it is vital to understand that with those efforts the CPC intends to rebuild CNI. The fundamental goal is to gain recognition and support of the international community and to make obvious China’s similarities to and differences from other nations (Curtin & Gaither, 2007, p. 175).

Given China’s recent ambitious efforts, one should not turn a blind eye to the assertion made by Ramo (2007) that “the world’s view of China is too often an unstable cocktail of out-of-date ideas, wild hopes and unshakeable prejudices and fears” and that Chinese officials are unclear about “what the country is and what it hopes to become” (Ramo, 2007, p. 12).

This paper argues that the China today has a clear vision which can be realized through ‘ The Chinese Dream ’; a doctrine of renewed ideas and an optimistic direction proposed by its current leader, President Xi Jinping and the CPC. In an article by Zhao Yinan (2013), President Xi Jinping is quoted as saying The Chinese Dream “is a dream of the whole nation, as well as of every individual” and that “all Chinese people deserve equal opportunities to enjoy a prosperous life, see their dreams come true and benefit together from the country's development.” Is The Chinese Dream promoted for legendary reasons or will it positively impact the lives of the Chinese people and possibly revamp CNI?

Magaret Mørk (2012) noted that some scholars have concluded that Western media coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics is significant to understand the magnitude of negativity attached to CNI. According to Sun (2010) this “hostile media coverage” despite China’s success “surprised and angered the Chinese government and its people” (p.58). Kunjin Luo (2009) in an analysis of 315 Western media reports on Beijing Olympics asserts that the negativity found in those reports “reflects conflict between cultural concepts and social identity” (p.112). Luo (2009) analysis also concluded that since the powerful Western countries make the game rules, China had to adopt to their rules and value concepts “in order to obtain “social identity” of the international society” (p.111).

It is not a question of whether CNI should be represented or framed in a strictly favorable way. It is a question of why CNI continues to be projected with prejudice by Western media even in the midst of major accomplishments and positive efforts. These efforts are highlighted in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) as the CPP aims “to address environmental and social imbalances, setting targets to reduce pollution, to increase energy efficiency, to improve access to education and healthcare, and to expand social protection.”[6]

There are liability factors which many have been used to constitute the negative portrayal of CNI in Western media. However, there are also assets which qualify China for a positive representation of its national image in Western media. A case in point is the poverty reduction plan which the Chinese government has implemented and the success it has reaped thus far. Xie & Page (2013) point out that renewed China coupled with the reform that commenced in 1978 has seen “500 million people have been lifted out of poverty” (p.853).

Historically, China’s image was solely defined and communicated by Western media and to some Chinese scholars as stated by Xie & Page (2013) the message communicated “is so biased and distorted that it constitutes a concerted effort to ‘demonize’ China” (p.855). As such, the Chinese government has recognized the need for initiatives to help change its image. This has been highlighted by Joshua Ramo Cooper (2007) who emphasized the need for China to cease “giving control over its image to others” (p. 19).

Using an excerpt from a speech given by Li Changchun, the propaganda chief of the CPC, Sun (2010) notes: “as Li Changchun’s speech makes abundantly clear, the overriding goal of Chinese media in the 21st century is to ensure that China is able to spread its beliefs and values far and wide, on a global scale” (p.68). In an article by Mu Xuequan titled ‘Xi: China to promote cultural soft power’ President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying “efforts are needed to build China’s national image.” President Xi emphasizes that the message that should be transmitted to the world is that “China should be portrayed as a civilized country featuring rich history, ethnic unity and cultural diversity, and as an oriental power with good government, developed economy, cultural prosperity, national unity and beautiful mountains and rivers” (Xinhua News Agency, 2014).

2.2 China’s Presence in the World

China is competing with the most powerful Western countries to mark its presence on the world which unquestionably, it is doing so strongly. This presence is mainly economic which can be linked to politics but it stretches out to culture, arts, and education. China houses the world’s largest population (World Atlas, 2014). With its population numbers alone, China’s has marked its presence. A July 2014 estimate puts the total population at 1.3 billion people (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014).

On the economic front, China’s economic achievements are commendable; in hindsight, China has come a very long way. In 1978, China was among the poorest countries in the world with a real per capita GDP of “only one-fortieth of the U.S. level and one-tenth the Brazilian level” (Zhu, 2012, p.103). According to Xiaodong Zhu (2012) China’s economic success is attributed to “its economic reform” which “started in the agricultural sector”. Zhu further stated that agriculture did more than just contribute “to aggregate productivity growth” it contributed to “structural transformation” (p.110).

In 1978, China opened its doors and embarked on reformation to transform itself from a planned economy to market oriented economy. The reform and opening up surfaced at the end of Cultural Revolution and after the death of the Communist Party in 1976, the then leader Deng Xiaoping was driven to advance the economy and improve the living standards of the Chinese people (Zhu, 2012, p.110).

The discussion of China’s presence is incomplete without the input of its cultural impact felt throughout the world as a result of Confucius Institutes. There are “480 Confucius Institutes operating on 6 continents around the world” (UCLA Confucius Institute, 2014). Xie & Page (2013) note that “the purpose of such institutes is to promote Chinese culture soft power by holding events that feature Chinese culture, and sponsoring student and faculty exchanges” (p.856). Knowledge of a place, thing or someone is better understood through direct interaction or experience, as such, the overall aim is to give the world first hand exposure to China through its teaching of Chinese culture and language.

Some of the key principles are to enhance understanding of Chinese language and culture, to strengthen education and cultural exchanges, to deepen friendly relationships with other nations, to promote multi-culturalism and to promote a harmonious world (Confucius Institutes Headquarters, Hanban, 2014).

According to Xie and Page (2013) it is expected that those who are exposed to the teaching offerings of Confucius Institutes will have “more favorable opinions about China” (p.856). Additionally, China’s contributions to world economies through its economic achievements should instigate positive perceptions about China but Wanning Sun (2010) asserts that “China’s ascent on the global stage as an economic and political power does not automatically bring about a more favorable perception of China in the international community; it has, in fact, given rise to a higher level of anxiety or even disapproval” (p. 59).

The anxiety and disapproval of China by Western media and leaders, highlights their knowledge on the importance of national images in international relations. A country’s image can be equated to a company’s flagship brand; it is the finest or most vital element which defines the company. Many if not all countries are mindful of the impact a positive or negative national image can have on their international relations. According to scholar Simon (2011) world leaders want to identify with the “basic consensus on universally accepted principles”, they care strongly about “international public opinion” because they see the need to maintain a positive image.

2.3 The Characteristics which constitute News Framing

In the media, “news framing is almost impossible to avoid” (Cissel, 2012, p.67). Similar sentiment is shared by Kejun Chu (2010) who in his thesis quoted McQuail (2005) as saying “framing is a way of giving some overall interpretation to isolated items of fact. It is almost unavoidable for journalists to do this and in so doing depart from pure ‘objectivity’ to introduce unintended bias” (Mcquail, (2005), p. 397, as cited in Chu, 2010, p. 7). As such, news framing is embedded in the biological makeup of the news package; it cannot be separated from other critical elements of the news. However, it is pertinent to understand “the motive behind the frames” (Cissel, 2012, p.67). In this thesis, this will be done on the basis of literature reviewed and on theoretical foundations.

Literature reviewed points to five characteristics or factors which may potentially explain the influence behind the selection of frames used by journalists to present an issue: social norms and values, organizational pressures and constraints, pressures of interest groups, journalist routines, and ideological orientations of journalists (e.g., Scheufele, 1999, p. 109; and Chu, 2010). Moreover, the element of culture should be considered in relation to the selection of frames. Communication Scholars Entman, Matthes and Pellicano (2007) observed that “if a communication does not exhibit repeated words and symbols that connect with the cultural associations of many citizens, then by these standards, it is not a frame” (p.177).

Hence, it can be concluded that the element of culture plays a pivotal role in the selection of frames. Culture is more than just the way of life of a people. Edward Taylor propose that “culture or civilization, taken in its broad ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (qtd. in Bradley, 2014, p.3). Scott London (1993) shares the view that:

The frames for a given story are seldom conscientiously chosen but represent instead the effort of the journalist or sponsor to convey a story in a direct and meaningful way. As such, news frames are frequently drawn from, and reflective of, shared cultural narratives and myths and resonate with the larger social themes to which journalists tend to be acutely sensitive (London, 1993, para.4).

Margaret Cissel (2012) asserts that “media framing is the way in which the media present information to audiences” (p.68). Who presents the messages and the motives behind the texts in message are of paramount importance in order to understand “the principles that naturally lead to it (text) being excluded or included, such that one may not even notice the inclusion” (Reese, 2001).

Journalists frequently decide what frames or information should be included or excluded in their presentation of a news story, although they are conscious of their choices, they “may still be unaware of the conditions affecting his or her choice of frames” (Mork, 2012). Moreover, “issues are framed as a result of social and institutional interests” (Reese, 2001). Reese (2001) argues that:

Interest in framing responds to Hackett’s (1984) recommendation that the media studies move beyond a narrow concern with bias—deviation from an objective standard—to a more fruitful view of the ideological character of news, thoroughly structured in its content practices and relations with society (Reese, 2001, p.9).

Communication scholar Stephen Reese (2001) cites Gitlin (1980) to note that “frames are inevitably part of a much larger set of structures, or societal ideology that finds its manifestation in the text. Reese found that when “the principle that gives rise to the frame” is ignored, media text is accepted as the truth, without an in depth look at the bigger picture behind the meaning of the text audiences become “misled by manifest content” (2001, p.7).

News discourse is a fundamental dimension in the structure of news content, and as noted by Teun van Dijk (1985) discourse is studied “as a central and manifest cultural and social product in and through which meanings and ideologies are expressed or (re-)produced.” (p.5). News discourse are specially designed to stimulate readers thoughts and action, “through framing of news discourse, journalists and their editors create a particular context for their audience.”[7]

Vis a Vis to media content, discourse analysis looks beyond the textual structures, it takes into account the realistic nature of the content. van Dijk (1988) observed that “a full-scale analysis of discourse involves an integration of text and context in the sense that the use of a discourse in a social situation is at the same time a social act” (p.29). While it is beyond the scope of this study to comprehensively focus on news discourse, it is pertinent to highlight its role in the meaning and use of language in the production and framing of news.

The pressures of interest groups as a characteristic which constitute news framing are essential because they represent the sponsors of news frames. Entman (1991) concludes that “news organizations shape their reports to elicit favorable reactions from readers and viewers, and the anticipated reactions of the public also affect the rhetoric and actions of political elites, who are the primary “sponsors” of news frames” (p.7). The sponsors are but not limited to advertisers, politicians, CEO’s, but the audiences as well.

When a story breaks, journalists look for the frames that are already in the pipeline which are identifiable to the characters in the story at hand. Journalists “are said to routinely seek the best narrative fit between incoming information and existing frames” (Reese, 2001, p. 5). This ties in with their ideological orientations which can be seen in “the news they prime, the way they frame issues and the agenda they help set” (Johnson & Cooper, 2009). Journalists and reporters prior to their positions in the media were active members of the society like the viewers, readers and listeners they now serve.

Notwithstanding their professional roles, journalists continue to be active members of communities which can possibly influence their social and political ideological orientations. It is observed by Cooper and Johnson (2009) that news organizations consider the media workers who are direct members of the community who share similar interest with the public rather than mere monitoring agents because “the public would prefer to be served by a reporter who shares their collective political predispositions” (p.7). And so, the frames they would choose to present a news story may be in sync with the members of the public they serve.

A combination of factors or characteristics forms the basis for news framing by news organizations. Off course, reporters and journalists views and opinions on their selection of news frames would have been ideal to complement the literature above, but this limitation can be seen as an opportunity to encourage further research.

2.4 The British- Chinese Connection

At the beginning of this chapter, this thesis makes mention of the famed letter written in 1839 by “high-level government administrator” Lin Zexu to Queen Victoria the British monarch asking Her majesty “to put an end to the practice of opium trafficking in China” (Li, 1969). This letter and the act of writing it show the plea for the Queen’s input to curb the dire opium drug problem due to British involvement on Chinese soil.

This problem ignited the start of “the opium wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1860” which “marked a new stage in China’s relations with the West.”[8] China was defeated in both wars and was forced to sign treaties to permit foreign trade and abolish trade restrictions (Perdue, 2011). Peter Perdue (2011) continues by saying “the Opium Wars are rightly named: it was not trade per se but rather unrestricted drug trade by the Western powers, particularly Britain that precipitated them.” The trade was operationalized in the unique ‘Canton System’ which was dependent on the qualities of the Pearl River Delta on “the special relationship with Macao” which served British, Dutch, and French traders (Van Dyke, 2005, p. 10).

The Opium Wars between Qing Dynasty and Britain was the first between China and a Western nation; it signaled the start of Western conspiracy to destroy China with drugs and gunboats.[9] According to Julia Lovell’s 2012 article, the opium trade was very lucrative. She cites John Wong’s 1998 study of Britain’s second Opium War with China, ‘Deadly Dreams’, in which it was made clear that Lord Palmerston’s depended on opium revenues throughout the middle decades of the 19th century (Lovell, 2012). It was in the nineteenth century that the image of China changed drastically and stereotyping Chinese people by the media took full effect as Chinese were referred to as ‘Yellow Peril’ and ‘drugs addicts’ (He, 2010, p. 10).

The fundamental nature of the Opium Wars led to the agreed Treaty of Nanking, commonly called the first ‘Unequal Treaty’ signed in 1842 by Queen Victoria and the Daoguang Emperor of China.[10] According to Asian history expert Kallie Szczepanski Britain benefited immensely while China was left empty handed. China suffered economic hardship and a serious loss of sovereignty.

Award winning journalist Julian Kossoff notes “that two centuries of Anglo-Chinese trade includes the most demonic chapter in the history of the British Empire: the Opium Wars and that particular imperial adventure is long forgotten in the UK, but the Chinese claim it as a national tragedy” (Kossoff, 2010). As was the case in the past, China continues to be the envy of the both Europe and the USA because it is a self sustaining nation, and in it are the goods that other nations “desperately want.”[11]

2.6 Research Questions

Literature reviewed points to the bias and unfavorable way in which Western media frames CNI, particularly in relation to historical major events in or about China. Furthermore, literature reviewed highlights the British-Chinese connection which may be a contributing factor to the way in which BBC news frames and represents CNI. This paper therefore raises two questions that this research aims to answer after a comprehensive analysis of BBC News reports on two major events. Question one examines how CNI is represented by BBC, using the two case study events, this research aims to realize a possible pattern of BBC framing of China, if there is a pattern. And Question two will indicate the leading frames used by BBC News to represent the image of China. Using all BBC News online articles on the APEC Summit 2014 and Occupy Central protest 2014, the specific research questions are:

1. How is China’s National Image framed by BBC News reporting?
2. What framing mechanisms and dominant frames are used in BBC News to represent China’s National Image?


This chapter provides an introduction and discussion on previous works done by academic scholars and researchers in the areas of media and news framing and framing analysis. Framing theory is the essential theoretical framework on which this thesis is based thus works of the pioneers deserve to be thoroughly discussed and clearly stated. This chapter features four parts: (1) framing history, theory and typology, (2) framing effect in communication research, (3) agenda setting history and relevance and (4) justification of theories.

3.1 Framing History, Theory and Typology

According to Bryant and Miron (2007) the framing theory was developed in 1974 but was first introduced to communication studies in 1983 (p.693). Margaret Cissel (2012) notes that it was communication scholar Erving Goffman to first recognize framing into the works of communication and media studies (Cissel, 2012, p. 68; Le, 2010) together with anthropologist-psychologist Gregory Bateson in 1972 (Reese, 2001) while according to Mari-Ann Mork (2012) it was Tuchman in the year 1978 to apply “the framing process in news network” in ‘Making News’ (Mork, 2012, p. 3). It was Robert Entman (1993) however who modernized or more so developed what framing is exactly, this conclusion is shared by both (Cissel, 2012) and (Mork, 2012).

There are a number of famed communication scholars who have provided similar and or varying definitions for framing or frames, for example (Erving Goffman, 1974; Todd Gitlin, 1980; Robert Entman, 1993, Stephen Reese, 2001; James Tankard, 2001; and Claes Vreese, 2005). They have all contributed immeasurably to news framing in communication studies and this thesis is guarded heavily on their conclusions and reasoning.

In his critical discussion on ‘Prologue--Framing Public Life’ communication scholar Stephen Reese (2001) referred to framing as “the way events and issues are organized and made sense of especially my media, media professionals, their audience” (Reese, 2001, p.7). As for Erving Goffman (1974) framing is a “schemata of interpretation” which allows audiences to “locate, perceive, identify, and label” information (Goffman, 1974, as cited in Brunken, 2004, p. 19).

Audience interpretation of information can be dependent on the way in which information is organized and presented to them by journalists who “at times utilize frames to deceive their audience” (Tankard, (2001, as cited in Bryant & Miron, 2004). Robert Entman (1993) believed that “to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and or/treatment recommendation” (Entman,1993, p.52).

Framing can be referred to as a tightly connected network of operations, “it is an individual psychological process, but it is also an organizational process and product, and a political strategic tool” Entman, Matthes, and Pelicano (2009, p. 175). These scholars noted that the framing operators strategically “construct messages that highlight connections among them in ways that promote a particular interpretation” (p.176).

Framing is a process which consists of frame-building which looks at how frames emerge and frame-setting which is about the interplay between media frames and audience predispositions (de Vreese, 2005, p. 51). de Vreese notes that frame-building considers the influential dynamics of the way in which news frames are structured; the internal factors surrounding journalists and news organizations. On the other hand, frame-building considers media frames and the connection audiences have to those frames based on their prior knowledge. The frame is constructed inside the news organizations based on their editorial policy but the overall framing process considers audiences’ preexisting knowledge about the frames used; a function that merges the two parts together.

Communication scholar Dietram Scheufele (1999) observed the need to specified two concepts of framing (media frames and individual frames) because “frames have to be considered schemes for both presenting and comprehending news” (p.106). Media frame is defined as “a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events” (Gamson & Modigliani, 1987, p.143). Whereas “individual or audience frames are mental stored clusters of events that guide individual’s processing of information” (Entman, 1993, p.153, as cited in Scheufele, 2000, p.306).

McCombs and Ghanem (2001) noted that “frames are typically macro attributes, often containing a mix of cognitive and affective elements” (p.78). It has been concluded by many scholars that framing is second level of the agenda setting theory which is discussed later in this chapter. As such, the identification of substantive or cognitive and affective attributes emerged. Lintida Camja and David Weaver (2003) quoted Kiousis et al. (1999) who defined substantive attributes as “pertaining to those characteristics of news that help us cognitively structure news and discern among various topics,” while affective attributes refer to “those facets of news coverage that elicit emotional reactions from its audience members (pp. 416–417)” (pp.1443-1444).

In theory, according to Entman (1993) framing is “a scattered conceptualization” (p. 51), its definitions are abstract and the theory relies “on context specific, rather than generally applicable operationalizations” (Scheufele, 1999, p. 103). Miao He (2010) who quoted Entman (1993:51) agrees that theoretically, research on framing carries with it “confusion and vagueness” (p. 24).

In spite of the abstract, confusing and vague nature of framing, as a theory it is not exclusive but connected to different disciplines and when embraced as such, it becomes appealing as a relationship between the media, culture and the audiences themselves which prohibits the selection of unjustifiable agents of communication (sender, content, audience) (Reese, at el, 2001). In other words, framing theory should be viewed as a whole body without limits to a mere component of the communication cycle.

When a story is communicated from one person to another, seldom will it contain 100% truthfulness, there will be additions and exclusions as the communicator of the story tries to present it to the receiver in a way that is plausible. Media stories are never shy of distortions and as noted by Lippman (1921) “even the eyewitness does not bring back a naéve picture of the scene” (p.53). The media does the exact same thing with the utilization of news frames, they select, exclude and emphasize certain aspects of a story as their aim is to obtain positive feedback through effects and outcomes from readers and viewers (Entman, 1991).

In essence the media’s creation of the news is presented to audiences in layers of importance set by their guiding principles. This creation is done by their respective ideology, the creation and dissemination of this ideology are essentially carried to audiences by framing, this is evident in the way in which news is organized and presented to audiences (Powell, 2011). Ideology of the media may not be the identical however one commonality is that it represents a distinctive line between “social structure and social cognition” (van Dijk, 1998, as cited in Le, 2010).

It is vital to note that frames can be divided into different groups based on similarities or differences, a process known as typology. According to de Vreese (2005) relevant frames limited to specific topics and events are labeled issue-specific frames and frames that can relate to different topics and different cultural contexts are labeled generic frames (p. 54).

Framing typology also includes episodic frame and thematic frame, both of which are vastly different. Some of the differences as noted by Diane Benjamin (2007) include episodic frame focal point is on the individual, on a single the event, private realm, and the person affected by a particular problem where as thematic frame focal point is on the issue, trends over time, the public realm and the solutions to the conditions that led to the problem in the story (Benjamin, 2007, para.3). Furthermore, Benjamin notes that users of episodic frame considers audiences as consumers “news you can use” contrary to users of thematic frame who consider audiences as citizens (Benjamin, 2007, para.3).

3.2 Framing Effects in News Media and Communication

Communication is defined as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news” (Oxford University Press, 2015). The public often look to news media as their main source to gather information about events and issues. As noted earlier in this chapter, events and issues are organized in order of importance based on the ideological concepts of the makers and shapers of news which represent the unavoidable inclusion of news framing.

To comprehend framing effects, it is pertinent to realize that “mass media are presumed not only to have certain objective effects on society but also to serve a social purpose” considering that “the entire study of mass communication is based on the assumption that the media have significant effects” (McQuail, 2010, p.162 and p.454). McQuail further highlighted some of these effects, namely, disseminating information, expressing different voices and views, helping form public opinion on issues and facilitating debate. These effects are carefully outlined and planned by those who are directly involved (owners, advertisers, producers, journalists, reporters) in the media as well as those who depend on the media to communicate their views and ideas to the public (p. 162).

In this global digital age, framing effects do not surface only from what is said but also the channel in which it is said. Today, there are a plethora of avenues and mediums through which information and news can be accessed. Effects are heavily dependent on the medium and its reach; it is definitely a time when according to McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” And according to Stanley Baran and Dennis Davis (2010), the meaning of this lasting phrase is “new forms of media transform (massage) our experience of ourselves and our society, and this influence is ultimately more important than the content that is transmitted in its specific messages- technology determines experience” (p.231).

According to James Druckman (2001) framing effects are built on the premises of frames in communication or ‘media frame’ and frames in thought. He posited that both types of frames share the commonality of variation in emphasis of salience (p.228). Communication scholars Entman, Mathes, and Pallicano (2009) notes that frames in communication deals with “what the speaker of news texts says; such as how an issue is portrayed by the elites contrary to that of frames in thought, which is concern with individual thoughts; such as value judgment of an issue” (p.188).

Druckman (2001) noted that frames in communication plays an important role in frames in thought, a process he terms the framing effect (p.228). He identified two types of framing effects; equivalency effects and emphasis (issue) effects in which the former “examines how the use of different, but logically equivalent, words or phrases causes individuals to alter their preferences” and the latter shows that by emphasizing a subset of potentially relevant considerations, a speaker can lead individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions” (pp.229-230).

It is important to note that although both equivalency effects and emphasis effects result in audiences to center their attention on selected parts of a news story over others, “the information subsets provided in emphasis framing are not logically identical to one another” (Entman et al, 2009, p.182). Framing effect in news media and communication help to influence public opinion so that precedence is given by the audience to certain aspects of a story which in turn formulate the basis for which they make decisions.

3.3 Agenda Setting History and Relevance

In the 20th century, agenda setting theory was widely used in communication research studies and saw a peak in 1993, despite its late arrival in comparison to other theories (Bryant & Miron, 2004, p.691). This peak could be as a result of the newly found attractiveness in the theory by researchers (Berger & Freeman, 2011, p. 7). Although, this theory is not as popular as framing, it continues to be a part of media and communication studies as statistics show a steady increase in its use by scholars over the years as seen in figure 1. And as pointed out by Davie and Maher (2010), this theory has resulted in more than 400 published studies (p.358).

Figure 1. Studies Published on Agenda Setting and Framing theories

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1. The trend of studies (agenda, framing, and priming) throughout the years. Adapted from “Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing and Priming,” by D. H. Weaver, Journal of Communication, 57, p. 144. Copyright 2007 by the International Communication Association.

The media’s presentation of news generally intends to set the agenda for political and economic issues, however, the media do not limit themselves to the political and economic landscapes--they also set the agenda for social, cultural, and educational issues and objects. In his book Public Opinion, renowned scholar Walter Lippmann (1922) initiated the discussion on agenda setting without using the phrase directly. He arrived at the assumption that “what each man does is based not on direct and certain knowledge, but on pictures made by himself or given to him” (p.6). In other words, with or without the public knowledge, the media creates a counterfeit environment for members of the public.

The genesis of agenda setting theory and its official use in mass communication studies was by journalism professors Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in their ‘Chapel Hill study’ which was published in 1972 in Public Opinion Quarterly ( Zhu & Blood, 1997, p.88). They did “a longitudinal analysis of media content to determine the influence of the political agenda on the media agenda” (Bryant & Miron, 2004, p.691).

The findings from McCombs and Shaw’s ground-breaking study titled ‘ The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media ’ revealed that “the political world is reproduced imperfectly by individual news media” and that voters agreed with the issues that were highlighted by the media as important which explains the agenda-setting function of the mass media (McCombs & Shaw, 1972, p.184).

Although their study concluded that the media’s emphasis on certain issues did influence voters during the 1968 election campaign, it was stated by Berger and Freedman (2011) that some scholars dispute the conclusion which claims that the media had little influence on the issues voters deemed important (p, 5). For example, Zhu and Blood (1997) quoted Cohen (1963) as saying the media “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling people what to think about” (qtd. in Zhu & Blood, p.89).

Notwithstanding Cohen’s conclusion, this paper supports the sentiment that the media frequently position issues in their news presentation in ways that force attention to some issues while downplaying others, they imply to the public “the issues they should think about, know about, and have feelings about” (McCombs & Shaw 1972, p. 177).

Jian-Hua Zhu and Deborah Blood (1997) concluded that “agenda setting is the process whereby the news media lead the public in assigning relative importance to various public issues” (pp.89-90). The theory “emphasizes the media’s role as a central gatekeeper to construct the social reality in the public’s mind” in that, the media highlight issues which they perceived are important to their audiences—“that is, the media can transfer the salience of issues on the media agenda to the public agenda (first-level agenda setting)” (Luo, 2014, p.1291).

Zhu and Blood (1997) who were cited earlier in this chapter noted “that media agenda refers to a list of issues or events that receive news coverage and public agenda refers to the list of issues that are on the minds of the public” (p.90). It can be agreed that there is a connection between the two agendas—since “most of what the public knows comes from ‘second’ or ‘third’ hand from the media” (McCombs & Shaw, 1972, p.176) which therefore means that the issues on the minds of the public are generated by what they hear or see in the media.

3.4 Justification of Theories

According to Dietram Scheufele (1999) in his in-depth discussion on ‘ Framing as a Theory of media Effects ’, pointed out that “not only are agenda setting and framing effects related, framing is, in fact, an extension of agenda setting” a suggestion he said was made by McCombs, Shaw and Weaver (1997) (p.103).

In his endeavor to understand why communication scholars preferred the framing theory over agenda setting and priming, David Weaver (2007) concluded that “frame can be applied to many different aspects of messages and to many different types of messages and that it can also be studied by means of systematic content analysis or more interpretive textual analysis alone” (p.144). It is on the basis of these qualities, this research found it ideal to employ the framing theory.

One of the strengths of agenda setting theory is that it is compatible with and complements other communication theories and concepts very well (McCombs & Ghanem, 2001, p.69). Hence, the research coupled both theories together. To understand BBC News’ framing of CNI, agenda setting theory provides the theoretical framework to understand why.

For this study, both theories provided a useful platform from which answers to this paper’s research questions can be drawn. Literature reviewed indicates that both theories focus on how the media give preferential treatment in their news reporting to some issues or objects relating to people, countries, organizations or events and not necessarily on which issues receive the preferential treatment (Weaver, 2007, p.147). The researcher is confident that both theories will provide a fruitful basis for this research, hence their application.


This chapter gives a direct and précise outline of the data collection, coding, and analysis processes of this research. It describes and justifies the research method used for this study, how the data was generated, coded, categorized and analyzed. And finally, sampling, sampling technique and sample size are thoroughly discussed.

In order to evaluate BBC News framing of CNI a Qualitative Content Analysis was performed on twenty-seven (27) and thirty (30) BBC online news articles pertaining to APEC Summit 2014 and Occupy Central protest, respectively. The selected articles were within the time period (sample frame) September 1st, 2014 to December 1st, 2014.

Qualitative content analysis first took root in the fields of “anthropology, qualitative sociology, and psychology, in order to explore the meanings underlying physical messages” (Zhang & Wildemuth, 2005, p. 1). This research method dates back to the “18th century in Scadinavia (Rosengren, (1981)” (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005, p.1278).

Qualitative content analysis was preferred over quantitative content analysis because this research is “more interested in the meanings associated with messages than with the number of times message variables occur” (Frey, Botan, & Kreps, 1999). Given the fact that this research is message based, this qualitative research method is ideal to “produce a thorough treatment of a given issue” and allows for a comprehensive discussion of media content (Reese, 2001, p.8).

One of the frequently raised criticisms of qualitative content analysis is that because it is based on readings and interpretation by the researcher, “small samples of media content” are usually selected which makes the findings “unscientific and unreliable” (Macnamara, 2007, p.5).

To counter the first criticism, the selected sample for this research is a reliable representation of the population under study. The sample includes all the news articles of both events. To counter the second criticism, quantitative content analysis could not be applied since it “has not been able to capture the context within which a media text becomes meaningful” (Newman, (1997) cited in (Macnamara, 2007, p.5)). Eventually the richness and meaning of the texts can be lost in the scientific statistical reasoning with quantitative content analysis.

4.1 Research Method

Content Analysis is useful to this research as the goal is to gather and analyze the content of texts in BBC News reports that featured APEC CEO Summit 2014 and Occupy Central protest 2014. The content as it relates to “words, meanings, pictures, symbols, ideas, themes, or any message that can be communicated” (Neuman, (1997, as cited in Macnamara, 2007, p. 2).

Cissel (2012) points out that “content analysis is essential to finding patterns, based on which scholars and researchers can methodically evaluate news media and its use of framing” (p.70). In order to evaluate the meanings associated with messages and to answer the research questions in a logical and systematic way, this research employs Qualitative Content Analysis research method.

Zhang and Wildemuth (2005) state that “qualitative content analysis involves a process designed to condense raw data into categories or themes based on valid inference and interpretation” (p.2). These scholars stated that the process of qualitative content analysis uses inductive reasoning but they cited (Patton, 2002) who said “the process does not need to exclude deductive reasoning” (p.2). This research study uses a deductive approach to qualitative content analysis. Categories and themes were generated based on “concepts or variable from theory or previous studies” (Berg, 2001, as cited in Zhang & Wildemuth, 2005).

Hsieh and Shannon (2005) suggested three different approaches to content analysis; conventional, directed, and summative. This research applied the directed approach to content analysis. This approach is applicable because this research intends to contribute to the existing literature or debate on the CNI image phenomenon and how it is represented by Western media.In addition, this research topic and questions are based on existing theory and literature reviewed and as such “the goal is to validate or extend conceptually a theoretical framework or theory” (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005, p.1281).

After creating the research database, the researcher successively and continually read all the articles in order to understand and unitize the content used in BBC News reporting to frame CNI. This is necessary because “good analysis depends on understanding the data” (Taylor-Powell & Renner, 2003, p. 2).

This research adopts a deductive approach, thus the frames were defined and operationalized before the articles have been read. Frames were identified by analyzing headlines, photo captions and the overall content based on already known frames from literature reviewed and prior studies. Data collected in this qualitative research study were used to analyze how CNI is represented by BBC News and what framing mechanisms or types of frames were used in BBC News reporting on APEC CEO Summit 2014 and Occupy Central protest 2014.

4.2 Coding and Categorization

Miles and Huberman (1994) conclude that “codes are tags or labels for assigning units of meaning to the descriptive or inferential information compiled during a study. Codes are usually attached to ‘chunks’ of varying size – words, phrases, sentences or whole paragraphs” (p.56)

The purpose of codes is to highlight what is embedded in the text or message, as such codes “support the retrieval of text segments, which in turn can be used to group them according to thematic aspects of the data they contain” (Gläser & Laudel, 2013, para.44).

The coding units used for the classification of texts in this research are chosen prior to analyzing the database of articles. As outlined by Fey, Botan, & Kreps (1999) the coding units that this research employs are:

1. Physical units - the space and length devoted to content
2. Meaning units - involve symbolic meaning
3. Syntactical units - consist of discrete units, such as individual words, sentences, and phrases
4. Referential units - deals with the way in which character units is represented
5. Thematic units - the topics contained within messages.

The units were categorized using five (5) of the most frequent factors used by foreign media in their coverage of China as highlighted by scholars Xie and Page (2013) in their study ‘What Affects China’s National Image? A cross-national study of public opinion’.

These five factors are: (1) human rights issues (2) environmental degradation (3) authoritarian rule (4) government corruption and (5) ‘China Threat’ which speaks to regional and international stability posed by China’s growing economic and military power (p.855). Subcategories were created in order to accommodate and simplified the themes that were initially coded, off course, ‘some categories made more sense than others, given the purpose of the study” (Lichtman, 2013, p.254).

The researcher used computer software for storing and reporting research data and not for data coding, analysis and interpretation. Given the fact that this research aims to understand how CNI is framed by BBC News reporting, the framing mechanisms used and the meaning behind the use of those frames, manual coding, analysis and interpretation is preferred rather than computer coding. This is because computer coding would be very unlikely to identify the range of meanings in texts and computers are unable to consider the context of content; they only view the text which can result in narrow incomplete interpretations (Manamara, 2007)

The deductive approach adopted in this research paper also intends to “describe a particular phenomenon or verify an existing theory” hence themes, categories and a coding scheme is derived from previous related studies and literature reviewed (Zhang & Wildemuth, 2005). Words, brief phrases, and sentences were coded for this research.

4.3 Data Analysis

Licthman (2013) notes that analyzing qualitative data is a cumbersome task and “there are no agreed-upon ways” of doing it, the steps available are general and there is a lack of universal rules to guide the process (p.245).

The data collected for this research was analyzed using a deductive content analysis approach. Satu Elo and Helvi Kyngas (2007) who cited (Kyngas & Vanhanen, 1999) noted that “deductive content analysis is used when the structure of analysis is operationalized on the basis of previous knowledge” (p.109).

Use of this deductive approach may depict a lack of creativity on the path of the researcher, whereas use of an inductive approach leads to “major bias and invalidity in a study” since variables are measured after they have been detected by the researcher (Macnamra, 2007). However, a deductive approach permits for some level of objectivity, given the fact that qualitative research and purposive sampling, both of which are included in this research study are prone to high levels of subjectivity.

The units of analysis in this research study are all BBC News online reports on APEC Summit and Occupy Central. The researcher copied and pasted the articles onto two separate word documents; the documents were then printed so that they can be analyzed in hard copy format. The researcher preferred hard copy because in this way an ease of data organization and familiarization can be better achieved.

After the researcher became familiarized with the data, a focus by event approach was adopted to focus the analysis “in order to identify consistencies and differences and later to explore the connection and relationships between” BBC News’ reporting of both events (Taylor-Powell & Renner, 20013, p. 2).

The data was read multiple times in order to generate themes and patterns. Following that, the data was then categorized through the use of a structured categorization matrix that was deductively developed (Elo & Kyngas, 2007, p. 111).

In relation to categorization of data, preset categories pulled from literature reviewed by the researcher were employed and then they were searched for in the news articles (Taylor-Powell & Renner, 2003, p.3). This method was preferred over emergent categories to avoid selecting categories after the data has been worked with. Moreover, adopted categories or schemes developed in previous studies “makes possible the accumulation and comparison of research findings across different studies” (Zhang, 2006, p.3).

In order to answer this thesis research questions, the researcher proceeded to identify patterns, connections, and frames in the news articles on the premises of relative importance and relationships. The analysis concluded with manual interpretation of data where the patterns, themes, and connections are used to explain the findings--attach meaning and significance of the texts to the analysis (Taylor-Powell & Renner, 2003, p.5).

4.4 Sampling

One of the most significant responsibilities that researchers are tasked with is the selection of sampling techniques and sample size, this is primarily because “in qualitative research sample selection has a profound effect on the ultimate quality of the research” (Coyne, 1997, p.623). Unlike quantitative research which focuses on large samples selected randomly (Patton, 1990, p.169), qualitative research usually deals with small sample size rich in data.

Thus, sample sizes are selected based on researchers’ manageability skills, time, and resource availability. It is for this reason samples are small and often lack representativeness of the population which makes generalization of findings complex, moreover, “it is difficult to tell how far the findings are biased by the researcher’s own opinions” (Patton & Cochran, 2002, p.2). It was noted by Imelda Coyne (1997) that “the researcher must have some idea of where to sample, not necessarily what to sample for and where it will lead” (p.625). In other words, the researcher must have a plan of where to find what he/she is looking for which can be realized through the process of sampling.

4.4.1 Sampling Technique .

The answers to this study’s research questions are partly derived from critical analysis of news reports from BBC News online platform—a platform with an infinite quantity of news reports. Furthermore, this analysis looks at BBC News reporting of two specific events in an effort to address the main objectives and research questions; hence a purposive or purposeful sampling technique is employed.

Purposive sampling is a non-probability sampling technique also referred to as selective, judgmental or subjective sampling and its main goal “is to focus on particular characteristics of a population that are of interest” (Lung Research Ltd, 2012). This technique is centered on the intentional selection of a sample by the researcher synonymous to the needs and aims of his/her study (Coyne, 1997, p.629).

According to Michael Patton (1990) “the logic and power of purposeful sampling is the selection of information-rich cases for in-depth study, these are cases “from which one can learn a great deal about issues of central importance to the purpose of the research, thus the term purposeful sampling (p.169).

The purposive sample strategy that this research study used was simple random sample which “permits generalization from sample to the population it represents” (Patton, 1990, p.183).

One disadvantage to using purposive sampling is researcher bias, which occurs because of the highly subjective nature of the technique. The fact that sample selection for this technique is as a result of researchers’ judgment or inclination is a poor defense mechanism “when it comes to alleviating possible researcher biases, especially when compared with probability sampling techniques that are designed to reduce such biases” (Lund Research, 2012).

Despite the challenge mentioned above, purposive sampling has an advantage. Michael Patton (1990) cited earlier, observed that studies based on small purposive samples are usually criticized for lack of logic, purpose, and recommended sample sizes of probability sampling (p.185). Patton therefore suggests that “the validity, meaningfulness, and insights generated from qualitative inquiry have more to do with the information-richness of the cases selected and the observational/analytical capabilities of the researcher than with sample size” (1990, p.185).

In addition to the above advantage, some purposive sampling techniques simple random for example “can provide researchers with the justification to make generalizations from the sample that is being studied, whether such generalizations are theoretical, analytic and/or logical in nature” (Lund Research Ltd, 2012).

4.4.2 Sample Size .

One of the most vital considerations for this research study was the reliability of sample selection needed to reflect impartiality. However, the reality of conducting a qualitative study that is message based is that it is impossible to avoid subjectivity on some level—much of it is centered on the researcher’s interpretation. Thus, the sample size was systematically selected to curb biasness and subjectivity to the overall findings of the research. Although the aim is not to statistically generalize, the priority here is to minimize bias (Patton & Cochran, 2002, p.9).

All the reports selected (sample) are from BBC News online. The reports selected were published within the time frame September 1st, 2014 to December 1st, 2015. An archival search for reports on BBCnews.com yielded fifty three (53) results: twenty nine (29) on Apec Summit and twenty four (24) on the OC protest). The sample includes all the editorials and reports of both events.

This sample size was intentionally chosen because it represents the objectives of this research study. Moreover, since this research is aimed at analyzing how CNI is framed in BBC News reporting and the frames used, this sample size is useful and practical for the analysis because it includes news reports on two of the most widely covered events in relation to CNI.

CHAPTER 5 RESULTS and ANALYSIS (BBC News reports on the two events)

The purpose of this chapter is to present findings of the news reports analyzed in this study. By employing the research method, qualitative content analysis outlined in chapter four of this research study in order to systematically and critically analyze BBC News reporting of (1) APEC CEO Summit 2014 and (2) Occupy Central protest 2014, the researcher will now demonstrate how BBC frames CNI and the main frames used. Content analysis was conducted on fifty-three (53) articles.The results are reported using a combination of two forms of qualitative research reports: (1) descriptions which make little reference to theoretical perspectives and (2) analytical discussions based on concepts which emerged from the news reports (Jensen, 1991, p.69).

This analysis implies that BBC News reporting generally frames China unfavorably—a conclusion found in previous studies. From a theoretical point of view, culture and journalistic practices play a critical role in the choice of frames used in news media in their news reporting, BBC News is no exception.

Analysis of BBC News reports on the both events focused on in this study shows repeated use of words and images which indicate BBC’s efforts to connect with the cultural makeup of its audiences. The researcher begins with presentation and interpretation of findings gathered from news reports on APEC CEO Summit, followed by analysis and interpretation of Occupy Central protest. An overview is presented in tables 1 and 2 in order to familiarize readers with the headlines of the news articles/reports discussed in this chapter.

5.1 Content Analysis of APEC CEO Summit

Cissel (2012) confirms that “research has shown that there is a significant relationship between the length of news articles and its perceived importance” (p71). During analysis of the articles the researcher noticed that the articles varied in terms of the space they occupied on BBC News website. The length of the articles (word count) is depicted in table 1 and displayed in figure 2. Articles with words from (0-400) are categorized as small, (401-800) medium, and (800-1200) as large.

Out of the twenty nine (29) articles relating to APEC examined, twelve (12) had a word count of less than 400, sixteen (16) had a word count of above 401 and one (1) had a word count above 801.

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Note. The numbers (1-29) in the headline column of table 1 were used to make reference to the respective article or news report in this and the following chapters.

Note. *During the process of analysis the researcher noticed that articles 7, 12, and 17, were not directly related to Apec Summit, but they contained content relating to China and Apec summit 2014. Also, given the fact that the articles were dated within the time period considered for the sample of this research, all three (3) articles were analyzed.

For the most part of this analysis, syntactical, referential, and thematic units were coupled together with meaning units since meaning units encompasses all three. The general findings from the content of the news articles examined reflect a pattern of economic and environmental themes or frames by BBC News reporting on APEC summit. The economic themes included: economic generosity, economic threat, economic uncertainty, economic reforms, economic commitment, economic giant, trade and bilateral agreements and economic advancements in aviation and technology.

The environmental themes or frames included: pollution woes, clean up air, air quality, smothered in smog, anti-pollution measures, factory operations restrictions, grey poison, Apec Blue, and ceiling on carbon emissions.

5.1.1 China Threat.

China’s economy and its economic achievements was not the core or central ideas of the news reports and not that it should be. However, analysis indicates that BBC News’ main motive was to downplay China’s achievements and to instill concern in the minds of its audience over APEC Summit. The bulk of the content was centered on China’s economic interests and relationships, aimed to portray China as self-satisfying. The way in which the news was presented to the audience in relation to China’s economy or economic strides is somewhat intended to invoke fear that China is an economic giant who is doing everything possible to take over the world.

For instance, the opening lines of article 1 read “papers back President Xi Jinping’s ‘Asia Pacific dream’ and dismiss fears over China growing clout as Beijing hosts the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit.” This statement lead indicates that the world was feared by China and its influence on the world. Article 4 highlighted that “the summit takes place as China looks to underline its growing status as regional leader and economic giant.”

The researcher cannot confidently say that it was not China’s aim to emphasize to other world leaders that it is ‘growing’ and it is an ‘economic giant’ but from varying angels of analysis and observation it is more accurate to conclude that the Chinese government stressed the promotion of free trade, investment, and cooperation between member economies and not necessarily about its rise as a global power.

The researcher, themed some content as economic generosity when mention was made of China as a friend to other countries in times of need and to foster development in other countries. Example is found in article 13 where it stated that “China has made important contributions to the world economy as a responsible member of the G20 group.” A quote from article 18 reads “after a meeting on Sunday with several Asian leaders, Mr. Xi promised $ 40bn to help countries to improve infrastructure and trade.”

Results from analysis show that President Xi and Prime Minister Abe’s interaction during the summit was another top theme in the news content of the reports on Apec Summit by BBC News, articles 1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, and 25, included phrases like “end of diplomatic freeze with Tokyo,” “severe tension over territorial dispute,” “severe tension” “improving ties,” “uncomfortable,” “chilly,” and “awkward handshake.”

Photo captions from some articles on interaction are:

“To some, a formal handshake between China’s and Japan’s leaders signaled the end of a diplomatic freeze or did it” (article 13).

“China’s President Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looked decidedly awkward as they shook hands on Monday” (article 15).

Clearly this story was significant to BBC News—it received quite a lot of attention. Although the words ‘severe tension’ and ‘territorial dispute’ were used to describe the China-Japan relationship, content of balance was found during analysis of the articles. In article 15, for example, the reporter added a quote from Xinhua News Agency to describe the interaction between the two leaders; “the icy relations between China and Japan now appear to have finally entered the thawing season.” And as indicated by reporter Martin Patience (2014), the interaction between the two leaders may lend itself to “improving ties.”

In essence, however, the central idea the reports issued was that there is sever tension between the two countries and the President Xi does not seem to be making an effort to repair China-Japan relations. This can be supported by a statement in article 11: “the Chinese president did not smile or respond to Mr. Abe’s attempt at conversation as the two men shook hands.” This statement appears at the end of the short article, the last words usually have a lasting impression on the minds of readers, the readers automatically pictures President Xi as a cold and unfriendly leader who turned down an attempt to initiate conversation with the Japanese leader.

Results also show that the news reports had a reasonable amount of content that pressed on US-China rivalry and which of the two countries is the current and would be the next world’s super-power. On the notion of framing, article 7 carried a somewhat subtle headline but deeper analysis revealed anything but. The headline reads ‘G20: Obama warns of Asia ‘intimidation as summit begin,’ the words “warns” and “intimidation” speak strongly to the popular Western view that China is a threat.

Often times, many different words can be use to suggest the same meaning, so looking at the headline and the opening lines of the story, it may very well seem like a gentle reminder that no country should be exposed to intimidation but closer look will show that President Obama is actually making the point that China is a threat to Asia and its neighboring countries should have no fear because America is committed to protecting them, if and when need be.

There was minimal content on the much talked about China’s military might, rather the recent efforts of President Xi to weed out corruption in the military was discussed in article 26. However, BBC’s Sydney correspondent repeated comments by Primier Li Keqiang in article 14: “China will not hesitate to react to any provocation if its sovereignty is breached.” This comment is in light of territorial dispute. The repetition of the lines in the same article, intends not only to emphasize the remark by the Premier Li but to create the idea in the minds of readers that China has war-like tendencies.

5.1.2 Environmental Degradation (pollution).

The second most frequent theme identified was the issue of pollution. It was clear that the reporter aimed to ridicule the efforts made by China to curb pollution in Beijing prior and during the APEC Summit. Examples can be drawn from analysis of the thematic and syntactical units in articles 12 and 16. Article 12 carried the headline ‘Daily life comes to stand-still in Beijing during Apec’ this titled can be interpreted by readers to mean that Chinese authorities placed the lives of the city’s residents on the sidelines to accommodate the dignitaries of the Apec summit.

First, the headline of that article provides readers with a false perception of the reality in the city during that period. Second, the conscious use of the word ‘stand-still’ made it appear to audiences that Beijing authorities completely shut the city down for the Apec summit. The language used here exemplifies the reporter’s efforts to deceive readers, which reflect BBC’s agenda in shaping public opinion.

Some photo captions on the issue of pollution are:

“Papers say smog has been a big problem for Beijing’s residents” (article 2).

“The UN has warned that global warming is likely to have a severe impact” (article 21).

“Even marriages cannot be registered in the week of the Apec summit in Beijing” (article 12)

“Apec blue has become a catchphrase with citizens”

Empirically speaking, the city was not on a ‘stand-still’ as highlighted in article 12. There was a sense of tranquility in the atmosphere but life was not put on hold. The ‘Apec blue’ was welcomed by many students, professors and others. This is not to say that some citizens were not affected by some of the changes but to give readers the impression that schools shut their doors, love was on hold, and that during Apec it was not a good time to get sick because hospitals are not taking new appointment, is utter exaggeration on the path of the journalists.

Journalist Celia Hatton who wrote the story with the title mention above focused her entire article on the negatives which shows a lack of impartiality and objectivity. This may be as a result of the journalistic routine or organizational pressures. Highlighting the negatives may also be the words or phrases used by BBC News because they exhibit cultural connections with BBC News’ audiences. It is highly possible also that news headlines and content featuring pollution issues have a great appeal to BBC News readership, particularly in relation to China.

This opening excerpt from article 12 shows the strong words used to describe the ‘Apec Blue’: “factories have been closed. Half the city’s cars have been barred from the streets. Locals have even been stopped from lighting outdoor barbeques or burning funeral incense. Exhausted by all the preparation, the city’s beleaguered citizens have marked the occasion by coining a phrase of their own: ‘Apec blue’” (Hatton, 2014).

Careful analysis of this excerpt shows that there is no longer a sense of normality in Beijing, that the lives of ordinary citizens were placed on hold to house Apec summit. The words beleaguered, exhausted, and barred create an impression of total anguish by citizens of Beijing hosting the summit.

What is also important to note is that despite the undisputed polluted skies often seen in Beijing, there are times when the skies are blue and those times are not attributed to Beijing hosting the Apec summit.

Article 16 carried the headline ‘Beijing bans funeral clothes-burning during Apec’ the title speaks to a practice that many Chinese engage in when a loved one has passed. The title aims to emphasize a lack of empathy shown by the Beijing authority. The opening lines in the story: “authorities in Beijing have banned the burning of dead relatives’ clothes during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit as an anti-pollution measure, local media report.”

The word ‘banned’ holds strong significance to the title and to the story. Moreover, it sways audiences to think of the story the way BBC News intended—that the CPC halted its people’s lives to accommodate APEC summit. Entman (1993) who was quoted earlier in chapter 3; said media frame is “a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events.” The word banned is the central idea which the reporter wanted the audiences to take from the story. Although ‘suspended’ was used in the notice posted at the Beijing’s Babaoshan cemetery, BBC News preferred to use a stronger word ‘banned.’

Beijing residents were seemingly aware of the reasons for the changes in the city. However, BBC News downplayed that as with every other major global event, business cannot be as usual. Another quote from the article reads “the practice is a relatively small source of smoke compared to the heavy air pollution caused by the use of coal to generate electricity and power factories.” Metaphorically, the reporter equated the smoke from the ritual to the smoke caused by coal from factories to insinuate that Beijing authorities care more about factories than they do about the people who simply want to follow a ritual in the name of their dead loved ones.

If we look at the two types of framing effects observed by Druckman (2001) discussed in chapter 3 of this paper, it can be agreed that the word ‘banned’ as was used in the headline of article 16 forms part of the equivalency effects used to alter audiences preference. Had the reporter used the word ‘suspended’ rather than ‘banned’ it is highly possible that the audience will be more accepting or understanding of the issue. Do the sponsors of BBC News want the audience to be more accepting or understanding of news relating to China?

On the basis of the emphasis (issue) effects, the reporter factored in a comparison of ritual in question to coal used for electricity and factories, this was necessary to direct audiences’ focus when forming opinions on the matter. Theoretically speaking, both headlines are framed in such a way to likely mislead the audience and what can be concluded is that BBC News intended to deceive its audience. The choice of words and the way in which they are organized by journalists to present news to their audiences, form the premise of interpretation by the audience.

In article 29, China editor compared ‘Apec blue’ to G20 blue making the claim that President Xi “doesn’t have to watch cars and factories turn the Chinese capital’s air to grey poison again.” This statement was made in light of President Xi attendance at the G20 summit which took place shortly after the Apec summit. The reporter steers audiences from the real reasons of President Xi visit.

It is safe to conclude that although China was heavily criticized for its polluted skies, it was never credited for the efforts it made to curb pollution. Analysis of the reports that looked at pollution at lengths during the period of the Apec summit, showed that for the most part, BBC ridiculed and denounce China’s efforts rather than hinting an expression of encouragement or appreciation.

However, article 21 did provide supportive quotes in its discussion on the US-China pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a pledge which was agreed to at the Apec summit. After downplaying the China’s willingness to do its path in the reduction of emissions, the reporter quoted energy specialist Lin Boqiang who used the word “realistic” to describe China’s commitment.

Surprisingly, only articles 4, 21, and 19 made mention of themes that fell under the human rights issues category. Article 4 briefly mentioned that “BBC’s Martin Patience was blocked from visiting dissident Hu Jia in Beijing” and article 21 spoke to the basic human right of people to live a comfortable life. This exclusion of a popular used topic in reference to China by Western media may be based on the event in question.

On the subject of US-China diplomatic relations which was discussed in article 19, the reporter noted Washington’s desire that “after decades of exposure to the American dream, China would buy into its values-including the bit about freedom of speech and democracy.” The question which arises therefore is: why should China adopt America values when it stands and is guided by a different value system?

Equally, there were few themes that fell under the authoritarian rule category. Article 2, 12, 14, 16, 15, 26, and 27 used the phrase “state-run media” a few times in reference to some of the sources used. These two issues as well as the issue of corruption received minimal attention in the reports that were analyzed.

The headlines of the stories, the visual images and overall content were based on issue salience. The reporters and journalists consciously chose their words so that audiences view as important when they want them to view as important, a practice as noted in chapter 3 is part of their biological make-up. The issues covered were organized in ways that will drive audience interpretation and therefore shape their perceptions according to the frames used to represent the issue.

The concepts drawn from the analysis of BBC News reports on Apec summit 2014 are partiality or biasness, negative reporting, and distorted reporting on the basis that the reporters generally preferred to focus on problem issues. From all indications, BBC News branded the event mainly as an economic venture (as it was in all actuality) and the reporters/journalists coupled their coverage of the event with the inclusion of environmental degradation issues, authoritarian rule and corruption as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Categories Identified During Analysis (Apec Summit)

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Figure 2. The main categories identified and in the number or articles they were found during analysis of APEC Summit reports by BBC News. One category was found in more than one article, for example, in one article 2, themes pertaining to environmental degradation and China Threat were present.

5.2 Content Analysis of Occupy Central

It was labeled a demonstration, student protests, and civil disobedience by different media networks. The label may have varied but what is synonymous with the international media is that, Occupy Central needed tremendous coverage. As it were for other Western media networks, OC was monitored and followed closely by BBC News and its audiences. Analysis of BBC News articles on OC shows that reporters, editors, and journalists in their reporting structured the event so that readers can quickly get the idea of who the good guys and bad guys were.

BBC News reporters clearly shared that observation and as such strategically used the principle ‘Formulaic Coverage’ discussed by Moeller (1999). Many of the articles portrayed the students as the good guys who were peacefully demonstrating with good intentions. On the other hand, the police officers, Hong Kong leader, and Beijing authorities were portrayed as the bad guys who seemingly tried to prevent the protest but more so as the bad guys who were not fulfilling the protesters demands. While some articles gave a synopsis, others gave updates but most gave an in-depth account of OC’s developments. It was clear from the onset of analysis that the reporters picked a side—the overall content and frames in the articles supported the event.

Robert Entman (1991) noted that “for entirely breaking events, it is the initial interaction of sources and journalists to set the framing process in motion” (p.7). That was clearly the case here as new schemas emerged from the coverage of OC which according to Entman “encouraged them to perceived, process, and report all further information about the event in ways supporting the basic interpretation encoded in the schema” (p.7). The most frequent sources and the schemes which emerged will be discussed shortly. But first a look at table 2, which depicts that headlines, date, and word count of the articles analyzed.

Table 2 Headlines and corresponding length (word count) of Occupy Central news articles

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Note. The numbers (30-53) in the headline column in table 2 table will be referred to as the article or news report number in this and the following chapters.

5.2.1 The most dominant themes/categories.

The articles frequently portrayed the organizers of the movements, supporters, and participants’ voices, interests, demands and plight. The general idea of the content analyzed was for readers to understand OC from the protesters’ perspectives; the reporters centered their focus more who were protesting and why.

The most frequently quoted sources were Chris Patten (former Hong Kong Governor), Chan Kin-man (Co-founder of OC), Lester Shum and Joshua Wong of Hong Kong Federation of Students. There were other quotes from John Kerry and Apple Daily. More than half of the articles included direct quotations from supportive OC sources.

Between the lines, it becomes clear that BBC News wanted to give the protesters and supporters of the movement a voice or more so a Western platform to vent their demands and frustrations with the CCP. Protesters’ demands and their human rights to democracy, freedom, and universal suffrage was the most dominant theme found throughout the analysis. Another dominant theme was Beijing rule over Hong Kong which is preventing the citizens from “genuine universal suffrage’.

Framing for the event was set in motion by the following schemas identified in the articles’ texts, headlines, pictures, and photo captions: “peaceful demonstrators”, “umbrella movement”, “genuine universal suffrage”, “pro-democracy movement”, and “defiant students”. These frames were the ones most commonly used to describe the protesters and their movement. The reporters selected and organized those themes in a way that will encourage support by their audience for OC.

Some of the photos captions were:

“In Hong Kong, crowds have swelled each evening for pro-democracy rallies” (article 47).

“Student activists organized a protest at the Hong Kong office in Taipei on Monday” (Article 32).

“Protecting police from the rain..Hong Kong demonstrators have been dubbed the “politest protesters’ by social media users” (article 33).

“Many government employees have returned to work” (article 52).

The story came alive in pictures[12] —the majority of the pictures used were of protesters holding umbrellas over their faces or sheltering officers from the rain, sleeping in the streets, wearing masks in the midst of tear gas fumes, large numbers gathered together holding plaque cards with words asking for democracy, and large numbers joining hands. There were also few pictures of Premier Leung being ridiculed.

The idea a reader is likely to get from the pictures embedded in the content of the reports is that a group of young people are peacefully protesting and that is the message BBC News reports conveyed. The atmosphere of the event may have been peaceful, but BBC News emphasized the peacefulness of the event more than it did to show the social disobedience.

It can be argued indefinitely that BBC News took the stand to use those frames to create a picture for its audience which depicted young people peacefully demonstrating for their right to full democracy as a means of building support for the movement. Off course, another reason for BBC’s stance could be related to audiences’ preexisting views against authoritarian rule and China, which left BBC reporters with no choice but to reflect audiences’ views.

Police involvement in the protest, particularly the use of pepper spray and tear gas on the protesters received prominence in the articles. Fear that the Chinese army may be sent from Beijing was also on the radar of the BBC News content. This benefits BBC News, in that within these messages, it is showing that the police officers used aggressive tactics on the protesters.

As shown in figure 3, another dominant category found throughout the analysis was human rights which featured themes like democracy, freedom, and universal suffrage. The possible intent of this action was not only to emphasis the request of the protesters but also to remind BBC News’ readership that there is no universal suffrage in China. China is positioned as authoritative, different from most countries in the world which permit universal suffrage.

The final category which dominated the content analyzed, was authoritarian rule expressed in themes such as Beijing’s political interference in Hong Kong democratic process, and that state media withholding information from mainlanders about the protest or simply not commenting on OC at all. Themes for this category were also apparent in the selection of quotes against the protest, which when expressed will be labeled “state-run media”.

Figure 3. Categories Identified During Analysis (OC)

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Figure 3. The main categories identified[13] and in the number of articles they were found during analysis of OC reports by BBC News. One category was found in more than one article, for example, in article 32, themes pertaining to environmental degradation and China Threat were present.

5.2.2 Other categories/themes which emerged from the facts of the data.

Metaphorically, BBC’s reporter Cindy Sui, in article 32 which carried the headline ‘why Taiwan is watching Hong Kong protests’ equated the Occupy Parliament movement in Taipei with OC in Hong Kong. The reporter quoted a supporter of OC as saying “Taiwan’s democracy and Hong Kong democracy have the same threat-the Beijing government.”

Other articles, example 38, 42, and 47 aimed at bringing to life the Tiananmen Square protest which does not rest well with many throughout the world based on its perceived end results. The meaning behind using this event in the same vein as OC may have been for audiences to recall the tragic memory of that event which has negatively tainted the image of China.

Article 33 associated protesters’ feet in the demonstration as a sign of exercising their democratic right to vote. It stated further that flags of freedom and not the national flag of China were noticed everywhere. The national flag of every country is highly respected and embraced by its respective citizen. The meaning interpreted by the researcher is that the choice of words here signals that the reporter’s aim is to show that the protesters has no regard for the national flag of China because it does not represent freedom, which is what protesters were demanding.

A vivid description of the protests’ atmosphere was given by reporter Martin Patience with the BBC, in article 33, who used the words “carnival atmosphere” and “family atmosphere” to describe the protests while another reporter Juliana Liu stated that parents and children were in the streets. These two descriptions aimed to give readers the idea that the OC environment is like an exciting celebration and that it is safe to a point where parents brought their children.

In relation to the agenda setting theory, the reporters are leading the public to believe that the police act of using pepper spray and tear gas on the protesters was uncalled for. Although not directly stated, the meaning interpreted by the researcher is that the description of the protest environment was created and positioned as an important issue for audiences’ consideration.

Eleven (11) articles had an attached section titled “Hong Kong Democracy timeline” which basically gave an outline that began with the year UK handed back Hong Kong to China and ended with expiry date for agreements made. The inclusion of this timeline in half of the articles shows that BBC News intends to give its audience a constant reminder that Hong Kong once belonged to the UK which makes the event a priority. This finding is substantiated by looking at table 1 which shows that ‘Apec’, the main theme of the event is included in thirteen (13) of the twenty nine (29) headlines whereas in table 2, ‘Hong Kong’ is included in twenty three (23) of the twenty four (24) headlines.

The title or headline of a story definitely sets the tone and meaning of the overall story and as such, referring to the agenda setting theory the analysis is drawn here that BBC’s inclusion of ‘Hong Kong’ in the headlines of all but one story aims to keep the event in the minds of the public. And as discussed in chapter 3 of this paper, it becomes apparent that BBC News sets the agenda with its capability of telling the public ‘what to think about.’

BBC News is the producer of the articles and as such, one of the tentative conclusions drawn from the salience OC receive is that of journalistic routines and the network’s ideology. It is important to note the that UK and China has historical difference which dates back centuries—an event against China gives BBC a foot-in to take sides and represent its political and social agenda.

The concepts derived from analysis of the OC articles are strong bias towards the protesters and their demands, lack of fairness and balance in the overall reporting. These concepts represent a pattern of reporting by BBC News—a pattern of organizational ideology influencing the content of news on events relating to countries other than the West.

5.2.3 Length of Articles.

Considering the fact the BBC News is Web based and the spectrum of online visitor traffic, story important cues are absolutely critical to attract the interest of online users seeking news. Online based news media is unlike traditional media (newspapers) which uses editorial cues such as, “the amount of space assign to the story, the page the story appears on and its headline size” to depict the story importance (Yang, 2008, p.32). Online based news media like BBC News has to constantly update its online content which poses a challenging task for editors and reporters to organize news in order of importance, so order of recency is the preferred option, however, (Yang, 2008) agrees that the length of a news story is a definite cue of news importance (pp.32-33).

In comparison to the articles on the Apec Summit, articles on OC were longer which shows that BBC News found this event more newsworthy and as such more important. The length of the both events articles as seen in tables 1 and 2 and displayed in figures 4, 5, and 6 can be considered a major determinist factor when it comes to which event BBC News felt was more important.

The length of a story does determine its importance, but the type of media is also a factor since the length may be attributed to printing costs of the news articles, in for instance newspapers. However, the articles analyzed in this study were all online-based which means printing costs is not a factor when considering length as a determination of story importance.

Comparatively, OC occupied more space on BBC News website and was treated with a more in-depth reporting agenda than Apec Summit. Some news readers tend to favor brief and sharp overviews of stories, which were available in BBC News’ APEC Summit reports. However, OC received comprehensive reporting; which means more time and space were allotted to its coverage, almost every article can be justified as a “feature story” filled with in-depth and insightful analysis of the event.

Figure 4. The Length of News Reports on Apec Summit by BBC News

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Figure 4. The length of each article was determined by the number of characters found in the content of the news article analyzed. The length categorization: small (0-400); medium (401-800 words); long (801-1,200 words) used was adapted from “Media Framing: a comparative content analysis on mainstream and alternative news coverage of Occupy Wall Street,” by M. Cissel, p.70. Copyright 2012.

Figure 5. The length of News Reports on Occupy Central by BBC News

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Figure 5. The length of each article was determined by the number of characters found in the content of the news article analyzed. The length categorization: small (0-400); medium (401-800 words); long (801-1,200 words) used was adapted from “Media Framing: a comparative content analysis on mainstream and alternative news coverage of Occupy Wall Street,” by M. Cissel, p.70. Copyright 2012.

Figure 6. The Length of News Reports: a comparative display of both events

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Note. *short indicates 0-400 words; medium, 401-800 words; and long, over 800 words (Cissel, 2012). All articles on OC were above 401 words hence there is no display in the short column for that event. There were an equal number of medium length articles for APEC as there were large for OC.


The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the findings from this research study from an empirical and theoretical perspective. It also provides answers to the research questions. Suggestions for further research are also included as well as general conclusions.

BBC News falls under the umbrella of Western media and it is one of the most recognize networks of British media and as such it was considered as one of the networks responsible for framing China unfavorably as revealed in previous studies. Having analyzed the news reports by BBC News regarding APEC Summit 2014 and OC protest in Hong Kong, the following patterns and connections emerged.

Firstly, it is vital to note that there were clear differences in the types of frames used to portray each event. Frame choices were not only driven by the fact that CNI was in the middle of both events but the nature of the events also played a role in frame selection. Secondly, stories about APEC were more frequently framed in terms of China Threat and Pollution, whereas stories about OC were more frequently framed in terms of human rights and authoritarian rule. Thirdly, it became quite evident that when a story or event about China appears in the spotlight of Western media, it will more than likely be distorted with the inclusion of one or more of the dominant frames identified earlier.

Fourthly, it was realized that BBC felt connected to the OC protest in Hong Kong, given the history between the United Kingdom and China. This connection motivated direct support for the movement and levels of bias against China were quite evident. The pictures used in the reports of both events also indicate forms of biasness. A picture says a thousand words and as noted by Lippmann (1921) “pictures have always been the surest way of conveying an idea, and next in order, words that call up pictures in memory. But the idea conveyed is not fully out won until we have identified ourselves with some aspect of the picture” (p.107).

And lastly, in regards to OC, BBC reporters opted for a pattern of positive reporting, primarily in relation to the protesters and their demands. As with most protests, OC’s protesters aimed to win the support and to attract the attention of media and the public. Evidently, BBC News helped fulfilled that aim in its news reporting of the event. Julian Gottlieb (2015) notes that “protests want news organizations to highlight the legitimacy of their aims and concerns as well as emphasize the proactive and effective measures taken by protests to remedy their concerns” (p.6). In regards to APEC, the pattern of reporting indicated that BBC News did not support the event. China was portrayed as an economic giant with little concern for the daily activities of its people. Ultimately, the Chinese government was portrayed as the ‘bad guy’ in BBC News reporting.

How did BBC News embed bias in its coverage of both events? What were the motivations or motives for biasness? How did BBC frame the event on purpose? The choice of words and frames, tones used, and the structure of the articles are significant. To draw on the sentiments posit by R. Warwick Blood (2002) “the choice of frames is not a matter of accuracy or objectivity, choice involves selecting the news angle of frame that are deemed most newsworthy” (p.13). Regarding tone, during the analysis of OC news reports a concerned, compassionate, and sympathetic tone was evident. However, an accusing, condemnatory and disinterested tone was found in APEC news report.

In his acclaimed book ‘News: The politics of illusion’ author W. Lance Bennett (2003) noted that “news has become a mass-produced consumer product” which has diluted the historic value of journalists enthusiasm to guarantee readers “the most accurate, critical, coherent, illuminating, and independent reporting of political events” (p.44).

Bennett’s sentiments forms part of the motivation for biasness in BBC News reporting on China, the news is packaged with the audience and corporate sponsors in mind. The research concurs with Bennett (2003) in his observation that the absence of critical perspectives in news is “achieved through packaging the news to suit the psychological tastes of different segments of the market audience” (p.44).

Bias was embedded in the use of personalization and dramatization —characteristics of news posited by W. Lance Bennett (2003). The news reports on both events focused largely on the human interest side of the story and were dramatized to reflect bias. Bennett (2003) observes that audience’s reaction to personalized news bring about private, emotional meanings which may result in the lost of the core critical substance of the story. Both events were highlighted as a crisis for Chinese people living in Beijing and Hong Kong, which adds to the dramatization aspect of BBC News reporting. These two characteristics do have their place in news reporting “when used mainly as an attention-focusing device” when used however as “as cheap emotional device to focus on human conflict and travail” news looses objectivity (Bennett, 2003, pp.45-46).

The first research question of this study asked “how is CNI framed by BBC News reporting?” The answer to this question hinges on a qualitative content analysis of BBC News articles on two different events relating to China.

Based on the findings discussed in the previous sections of this chapter, it is quite evident that CNI is framed negatively by BBC News reporting. Scholars[14] have put forward the argument that journalists pledge allegiance to the profession of journalism and seldom to the media organizations they work for, this paper believes that the latter in more impactful in journalist selection of frames and how they write about a certain event or country.

The research makes the analysis that BBC journalists/reporters framed China by using frames that are familiar with BBC’s regular representation of China. The characteristic of ‘ideology’ was evident in the content, given the observation that “ideology is an intellectual process developed over time, through which the sum of ideas and views on social and political issues of a particular group is shaped” or highlighted while others are omitted (Deuze, 2005, p.445).

Notwithstanding, the minimal content used to show that BBC News was neutral or objective, the bulk of the content was a construction of reality which represented China unfavorably. The reporters wrote about both events in accordance to their organization’s trend of reporting on events pertaining to China, and as a Western news network, this conclusion is identical to the already known phenomenon of Western news networks framing of China.

The following key points are the reasons for the above conclusion:

- Throughout the hosting of APEC, the sky was blue and the air was crystal clear, there were decorations everywhere and the city looked beautiful. However, the content analyzed revealed the complete opposite and in articles that spoke about the blue sky seen throughout the APEC week, city’s efforts to provide a beautiful clear environment was ridicule and downplayed by BBC News.
- A protest is nothing but a protest, this paper does not aim to dispute that a protest can be peaceful; however, the picture painted by BBC News in its description of OC is anything but objective. The political and social image of China was framed negatively-- claims were made by reporters that the protest showed signs of developing into another Tiananmen Square, Beijing authorities may send in the army, and that China broke its promise of giving Hong Kong genuine democracy. As such, the fact that the articles highlighted peaceful as the theme of OC, in an effort to frame China negatively, content was used to show that Beijing may send in the army which is illogical given the peaceful nature of OC.

The second research question that this study asked was “what are the dominant frames used in BBC News to represent China’s National Image?” In general, the most common frames were, in order of predominance, Authoritarian rule, Human Rights, Environmental degradation, and China Threat. In the coverage of APEC, given the fact that the event was an economic gathering to enhance free trade and economic relationships held in Beijing, the dominant frames used were China threat and environmental degradation. In the coverage of OC protest, it was a demonstration for the right to vote for a premier without vetted candidates approved by the CCP and it was held in Hong Kong, the dominant frames used were human rights and authoritarian rule.

These frames, themes or categories represent the pattern in Western media framing of CNI, identified in previous research by scholars. Constant used of those frames shape public perceptions of China; moreover these frames form a socio-cultural link between the news producer and the receivers.

The findings raise at least two significant areas for future research. First, the events suggest the need for more research on the messages (texts, discourse) embedded in BBC News reports. Through the use of critical discourse analysis, a deeper investigation can reveal a better understanding of the choice of frames used in news framing and therefore provides a systematic analysis of media texts. Secondly, future research needs to be done to determine whether there is any change in BBC News reporting on China-related events. A comparison of past events and recent events is a good place to start. Also, since China has a strong presence in the Caribbean, a research study should be considered to determine how CNI is framed by Caribbean media networks.


News media play an undoubtedly critical role as one of our key sources of information; it is thus a necessary mode of communication. Audiences depend enormously on the media for information on public issues, particularly issues that in some way or another impact their lives.

News media embrace the task of disseminating information and they do so, considering many factors and through the use of various communication theories. The main factors which contribute to news framing are organizational ideologies, social and cultural, audiences’ interest, and sponsors’ interests. Some of those factors were evident in this paper’s analysis of CNI in BBC News.

Framing is a widely used strategy by news media to promote issue salience to the public and it is also an interesting concept in media research (Reese, 2001). Agenda setting theory is used by news media to lead the public in deciding what should be on their minds in terms of which issues are most important. Both theories are inescapable for media professionals and sponsors of news. BBC News clearly applied both theories to its news reporting on APEC Summit and on OC by emphasizing some issues and downplaying others.

Given the conclusion that a country’s national image plays a vital role in international recognition and international relations (Anholt, 2011), it is fair to assert that BBC News, through its reporting on China-related events aims to misrepresent the image of China. As a prominent network in the British media, BBC’s efforts to distort CNI may be connected to Great Britain’s fear that its global superiority may be challenged by China.

Despite the damage to China image by Western media, China is highly regarded as a global economic force, who can potentially occupy a leading role in the global economic sphere. Some countries are not amused by the new and transformed China; their leaders are disgruntled by China’s economic growth, achievement, peaceful rise, and global status.

This disgruntlement is highly reflective in Western media, as they aim to advance their viewpoints, through their media packages relating to China. The researcher concurs with the sentiment penned by Mari-Anne Mork (2002) that the dominance of Western media and the extent of negative reporting about China, has resulted in a major image problem for China in the international front (p.50). China continues to embark on various projects and initiatives to repair its national image. As China continues to establish itself among the powers of the world, it is left to be seen whether or not; framing of its national image by Western media will improve or the persistence negative reporting.

It is left to be seen also whether or not China’s efforts to improve its national image are effective in re-shaping international public opinion. Would the efforts be sufficient to give members of the international community a different side of China than what is portrayed by the West? China’s efforts to embrace the mantle to rebuild and restructure its national image is commendable, however, the image should be restructured in way that represents the richness and purity of China, its people, and its values. Or as Simon Anholt (2011) puts it, image rebuilding should not be “a fabricated stereotype to replace the inherited stereotype (p.11).


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Appendix A: Coding Units

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Appendix B: Categories, Definitions and Examples

1. Human Rights Issues: violation of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, enforcing the death penalty or capital in the absence of rule of law and due process, one child policy, lack of workers’ rights for migrant workers who do not have freedom of movement and access to services as mainlanders do, lack of religious freedom, efforts by the CCP to improve or grant human rights issues, universal suffrage
2. Environmental Degradation: relates to content about disturbance or depletion of the environment. Examples: pollution, China as a major contributor to carbon emissions, environmental problems besides pollution and what China has done or plans to do to cease from degrading the environment, environmentally friendly projects, and agreements to help curb pollution.
3. Authoritarian Rule: relates to content about government or political system control over individual freedom. Examples: China Communist Party, censorship, the media as the CCP’s mouth piece, prohibiting freedom of the internet, citizens cannot publicly criticize the government, lax regulations since the opening up which lead to fragmentation of the media, freedom, and democracy.
4. Government Corruption: relates to content about government officials or public figures engaging in corruption, CCP recent ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption throughout the country, prosecution of government officials found guilty of engaging in corruption, government officials involvement in brides and undercover deals.
5. China Threat: relates to content about China as a threat to regional and international stability as a result of China’s growing economic and military power, China peaceful rise, China’s military budget, neighboring countries views about China’s economic and military strength, China’s military might or strength, China’s relationship with other countries, factors that boost or negatively impact the economy.

Appendix C: Themes identified for Occupy Central and APEC Summit

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Appendix D: Examples of Images used in BBC News Reports of OC

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Caption: “Protecting police from the rain... Hong Kong demonstrators have been dubbed the "politest protesters" by social media users”.

Source: “Hong Kong stages huge National Day democracy protests” by BBC News, 2014, October 1. Copyright 2014 by BBC.

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Caption: “Earlier, police clashed with protesters attempting to block roads in central Hong Kong”.

Source: “Hong Kong: Protesters defiant amid stand-off” by BBC News, 2014, October 29. Copyright 2014 by BBC.

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Caption: “Protesters shield police from the rain in Hong Kong's so-called "umbrella revolution".

Source: “China issues warning over Hong Kong ‘illegal’ protests” from BBC News 2014, October 2. Copyright 2014 by BBC.

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Caption: “CY Leung is called "689" by the protesters in reference to the number of votes cast to elect him”.

Source: “Hong Kong protest: If Hong Kong leaders CY Leung agreed to an interview” from BBC News, 2014 October 4, 2014. Copyright 2014 by BBC.


[1] These studies looked at China’s National Image from varying perspectives. See for example, Mari-Anne Mork, ‘China in Africa-Changing frames in Chinese and British Media Discourse’ (2012); Bob Wekesa, ‘Media Framing of an image of China in East Africa: an exploratory study, (2012); Kunjin Luo, ‘Review on Construction of National Image of China from Reports by Western Media on the Olympic Games’ (2009), Asian Social Science Journal 5(8); Alexander Lukin, ‘Russia’s Image of China & Russian-Chinese Relations,’ East Asia International Quarterly 17(1).

[2] For example Xinhua, CCTV 21, China Daily and Global Times (China)

[3] ‘Occupy Central’, South China Morning Post, (28 February, 2015), available at: http://www.scmp.com/topics/occupy-central (accessed 28 February, 2015).

[4] Tony Cartalucci, ‘US Now Admits it is Funding “Occupy Central” in Hong Kong’, Global Research, (1 October 2014), available at: http://www.globalresearch.ca/us-now-admits-it-is-funding-occupy-central-in-hong-kong/5405680 (accessed 4 March 2015).

[5] Rishi Iyengar, ‘One Month After Tear Gas, Hong Kong Protesters Ponder Their Next Step’, TIME, (29 October 2014), available at: http://time.com/3545081/tear-gas-hong-kong-occupy-central-umbrella-revolution-month/ (accessed 2 March 2015).

[6] ‘China Overview’, The World Bank, (1 April, 104), available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/overview (assessed 20 December 2014).

[7] R. Warwick Blood, “A Qualitative Analysis of the Reporting and Portrayal of Mental Illness in the Courier Mail and Sudan Mail, December 2001 to February 2002, (2002).

[8] Peter C. Perdue, ‘The First Opium War, The Anglo-Chinese War of 1839-1842’, (2011).

[9] Julia Lovell, ‘The Opium Wars: From Both Sides Now’, (6 June, 2012) HistoryToday, 62(6), available at: http://www.historytoday.com/julia-lovell/opium-wars-both-sides-now (assessed 4 February 2015).

[10] Kallie Szczepanski, ‘The First and Second Opium Wars’, About.com (2015), available at: http://asianhistory.about.com/od/colonialisminasia/ss/China-Opium-Wars_2.htm (assessed 4 February 2015).

[11] Julian Kossoff, ‘The opium wars still define relations between the UK and China. Pity the hapless Mr. Cameron’, The Telegraph, (10 November, 2010), available at: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/juliankossoff/100063040/david-cameron-in-china-dont-mention-the-opium-wars/ (assessed 4 February, 2015).

[12] Refer to Appendix D for picture examples.

[13] Coded Data for Statistical Analysis attached in Appendices

[14] See for example, Russo, T.C. (1998) ‘Organizational and Professional Identification: A Case of Newspapers Journalist’, Management Communication Quarterly 12(1).


ISBN (Book)
File size
1.5 MB
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Institution / College
Communication University of China – Institute of Communication Studies
analysis china’s national image news perspective framing



Title: An Analysis of China’s National Image in BBC News. A Perspective of News Framing