Abstract: Inequities in China are reflected within state-run media coverage due to its specific role “guiding public opinion,” and with our study we contribute to the geographic turn in the Chinese context with regard to media and journalism. As a subject of a spatial study, China is unique due to several factors: geographic diversity, authoritarian control, and centralized media. By analyzing text from 53,000 articles published in People’s Daily (rénmín rìbào, 人民日報) from January 2016 to August 2020, we examine how the amount of news coverage varies by region within China, how topics and sentiments manifest in different places, and how coverage varies with regard to foreign countries. Automated methods were used to detect place names from the articles and geoparse them to specific locations, combining spatial analysis, topic modeling and sentiment analysis to identify geographic biases in news coverage in an authoritarian context. We found remarkably uniform and positive coverage domestically, but substantial differences towards coverage of different foreign countries.
Keywords: authoritarian public; China; Chinese media system; People’s Daily; propaganda; spatial analysis; news values