China representations during the Volvo takeover
The internationalization of Chinese enterprises was unthinkable a decade ago, but it's now of a high interest and its hitting the headlines of major newspapers around the world. The names such as Lenovo and Geely are becoming known brands and the world is witnessing the passing of Made in China to Made by China. The consequences of the rise of Chinese companies in Europe, creates an increasingly hard competition between Chinese and European enterprises.
In Western countries, blue and white collar workers fear for their jobs if China ends with the commercial supremacy of the old West industrial countries. As the old economic order of the West is coming to an end, a growing apprehension menaces the old Europe and America affirming that they will end in the losers' side of globalization. All around the world, countries and governments are tempted to start protecting their national jobs from international competition, creating protectionist actions in order to prevent off-shoring or out-sourcing deals. All these protectionist measures recall the "Economic patriotism" a temptation that not only French politicians like to give way. This economic patriotism poses a problem not only on the European Union level but also on the national level, and has a fair number of supporters within the European Commission.
These issues were reflected on media representations during the Volvo takeover by the Chinese company Geely. These representations contributed with the process of the creation of the image of China based on Swedish values. The newspaper "Dagens Industri", applied their own framework to interpret the event. With arranged agendas in reporting the event, the newspaper aimed to forge ideas and beliefs into the consciousness of the information receivers. Thus the core values of Sweden were presented and preserved in the articles published by Dagens Industri.
Dagens Industri is a Swedish business newspaper in the Bonnier group, which is one of the dominating actors on the newspaper market in Sweden, with more than a quarter of the total newspaper market in the country. After the deregulation of the Swedish media market in 1990, the Bonnier group found an array of opportunities in the media market and since then has been characterized for its lateral integration not only in Sweden but in other countries such as the Eastland, Latvia, and Poland among others. Even though that during 1990 the deregulation met place, the relationship between media organizations and the Swedish government continue to be of mutual interest. This interest is outlined by Burton when he quotes Robinson:
"The objective of regulation is to prevent any media controller from gaining excessive powers in the market for ideas" (Burton, Graeme 2005:21)
This objective is fulfilled by the process of self-regulation, in which various independent voluntary bodies have created the Swedish accountability system, forming the first press council. Among the voluntary bodies are: the Association of newspaper publishers (Tidningsutgivarna TU), which has a strong interest for labour negotiations; the union of Swedish journalists ( Svenska Journalistfrbundet SJF), this organization is also responsible for labour negotiations; and The Publicist's Club (Publicistklubben PK), which is interested in the ethical conduct of the national mass media. Albeit the Council of press aims self-regulation, their institutional practices and rules are based on the national media legislation, which is dated back from 1766. At the moment the Swedish accountability system has the following three basic rules that aims to practice: the first aims to rule and regulate the fairness of reporting, privacy, rights of respondents and the right to reply among others; the second rule deals with the journalist's professional conduct and concern the integrity of journalists; and the third rule deals with the relationship between the editorial and the advertising content.
Looking more into the micro level of Dagens Industri newspaper, the central concepts of management can be outlined as: that this newspaper is simple to understand, is a handbook for managers and can be read in a very short time. The articles are written so that people without a higher superior education in economics and management can comprehend them easily. This concept is directed to a target group that is not part of the elite group of top managers, but managers at many different levels in different sectors. With the goal to reach these managers, or decision makers as Dagens Industri refers to them, the articles need to be written explaining complex economic news in an easy way to understand. Hence the newspaper aims to write short and simple articles that visualize the facts. Dagens Industri wants to become the handbook for the reader in everyday working life, thus to improve the readers job performance and furthermore the newspaper whish to become a career development tool. The main concentration of the newspaper is directed to the business firm level rather on macroeconomic issues. But, when macroeconomic news are presented for the readers they are often related in a way that show how these issues are affecting individual companies.
Several representations of China were prominently in Swedish newspapers, soon after Ford announced that the Chinese company -Geely was its preferred bidder in the negotiations to sell Volvo. This announcement met a frigid reception in the Swedish media, creating scepticism and avalanches of serial promoting negative Chinese stereotypes in the newspapers' articles. In Dagens Industri newspaper an explicit stereotype representation of China was published. Articles such as "China is not right for Volvo" and "Volvo and Geely, a Chinese fortune cookie" are just some of the highly opinionated articles. This situation has led to mounting interest in Sweden, in getting more information about China, human rights, and other associated issues in the context of the negotiation of Volvo. While Dagens Industri was representing violations of rights of Chinese workers, the unreliability of the Chinese state owned companies, they where indirectly presenting their own society "the self", as a perfect protector and owner of the Volvo cars company. In contrast the Chinese society, "the other", including its religious, political, social, and cultural systems, was portrayed as communist, malfunction and as a state that violates human rights.
The issue of the representations about China during the Volvo takeover confirms that mass media are important channels for the creation and transmission of norms, values and ideas within societies, and these are subsequently key participants in the representation of issues such as race, gender, and religion. Furthermore the mass media play an important role in shaping their audiences perception, as well as the representations and opinions of people about events surrounding them. As Brawley outlined: "Our understanding of and attitudes toward people, events, and problems are greatly influenced by the information and views communicated though these media" (Brawley, 1983:12). Commonly, mass media use different techniques and approaches to mix new stories or facts, with their own interpretation in the representations, this is confirming by Bird and Dardenne who argue that: "News stories, like myths, do to "tell it like it is", but rather "tell it like it means"(Bird and Dardenne, 1988:71).
Stuart Hall argues that representation is very close to the production of meaning. He writes: "Representation is an essential part of the process by which meaning is produced and exchanged between members of a culture. It does involve the use of language, of signs and images which stand for or represent things (Hall, Stuart 1997:15)" and this is in fact what media in general do, they represent and recreate the world for the audience by portraying the Volvo takeover in different features, comments, and languages. For these reasons, true representation divulged by the media is vital, mainly when it refers to transnational reporting, because the audience tends to understand and remember the information they heard and see.
If the headlines and titles illustrate an outline on the images of China, the language used in the content of the articles creates a paradoxical image of China, which in some articles is presented as having an economic vitality and in some others as being unstable and adventurous. At the beginning of the transaction media representations about Geely and China were positive, at that point China was presented as a booming economy full with opportunities. However, negative images of China were increasingly introduced in the articles. A selection of expressions from the first article published on October 28 2009 illustrates how the positive attitudes about the Volvo takeover were constructed. The phrases describing the Chinese company -Geely were: Young, hungry and ambitious; Geely has a brilliant business plan; China is the world's largest vehicle market; Geely will not move the production to China.
It is not hard to see that in the eyes of Swedes, China represents a dynamic economy. It has pushed forward the production of cars' spare parts and now is one of the world largest car markets. Sweden, one of the pioneers of car manufacturing in the world is now experience an outward investment from China that arrives to Europe with the main goal to acquire companies that are being affected by the economic crisis. China is considered as an impetus that will enhance the economic development in Sweden and in China. In spite of the above positive images about China, a paradoxical image of China was also presented as greedy, unstable and authoritarian.
In December 09 2009, the news regarding the Volvo takeover started to be presented from a negative angle. The strategies Geely aimed to follow for the acquisition of Volvo, arouses worries that portrayed Geely as risky unrealistic and unreliable. From the above examples, China and Geely are regarded as potential threat to the Swedish society and to the Volvo Company.
Furthermore, in the same article China is portrayed as an undeveloped country, as stated in the article: "The purchase of Volvo helps China to open for democracy and to deliver a decent life for its citizens with both economic wealth and basic human rights". This quotation implies that Chinese people are having difficulties to meet the basic needs. The Chinese government's inability to control and provide basic conditions of living for Chinese people, reflect the Swedish values, which are: respect for human rights, open market, freedom and democracy. These values are outlined in the articles and reaffirm the superior position Sweden has. The expressions in the articles demonstrate that the Swedish values in democracy have shaped and penetrated into the images of China. This penetration was presented in the articles when Sweden was setting itself as an example of democracy and when the articles outlined that the transaction outcome could contribute to the improvement in the living conditions and human rights of the Chinese people.
Another worry presented in the articles is directed to the Chinese "state-owned" companies and to the role of the state: "A country with a strong economy is one of the world's most powerful military powers considering the ideologically West as their enemy; Det r orovckande att en av vrldens It is worrying that one of the world most powerful economies is a dictatorship that in no way lives up to our values on how a country treats their people". This information is reinforced by the importance on the role of Chinese government in Chinese industries. These quotations make clear to the Swedish companies that while dealing with Chinese enterprises a sense of uncertainty and inequality might appear. Making business with Chinese companies is then referred to unbalance conditions, mainly because the Swedish companies end up doing business with the Chinese government, rather than with the independent companies.
The images of China presented in these articles, express a range of national Swedish concerns about the prospective buyer of Volvo cars. What the articles celebrate and condemn implies its own desires, which is directed in finding a suitable buyer among the audience, which in accordance to the Structuralist approach doesn't have a passive role as the orthodox Marxism assumes. It distinguishes the subjectivity of the audiences and the ideological struggle between the subordinating groups and the dominant group (Graham, Phil 2006: 33). Letters to the editor in newspapers offer a channel of reconciliation for the audience to vocal their agreement or disagreement on different issues. The editorials in the newspapers have to take into consideration the audiences opinions in order to adjust its stances or changing its rhetoric in order to maintain the readership. This approach outlines a process in which the cultural activities and practices of individuals are constantly striving to comprehend the outside world. It problematizes the common sense, because the framing presented by the media poses the perspective that will fit in the new things into the previous paradigm rather than questioning what the things are. During the process of adaptation to the new changing situations, the common sense is very dynamic and the media is just the battle field where the ideological struggle takes place. (Jones, 1999:43)
Guided by this approach, I argue that the Dagens Industri newspaper, by applying their own structure to construe issues and events and to organize agendas in reporting them, they are creating and recreating beliefs and ideas into the perception of the audience. Consequently the Swedish core values are represented and maintained in the newspaper. Furthermore, by the influence of the tone of the media, audiences have a propensity to acknowledge their cultural belongings and their status as a common society. In the meantime, the negative and critical responses from the audience from diverse social groups can be negotiate with the media discourse of -what should be rather than -what is it, this in order to release the subordinated social forces.
Throughout a continuing process of negotiation, socialization and framing, the audiences have acknowledged the presented framework as legitimate. Then the imaged social community is recreated and preserved. In contrast news values attached by the media make the Swedish newspapers' coverage of the Volvo takeover, a representation of Swedish core values. In reporting the news there is a criterion that has a high weight determining whether the news is worthy or not. Within media and journalism there are seven standards in news values, and they are: currency, proximity, impact, prominence, human interest and novelty. Put differently, the outcome of an event for the society, how close the news is related to the peoples' everyday life, and how it relates to the national interests, are essential issues that editors and reporters need to consider.
The takeover of Volvo by the Chinese Geely is an issue that is closely related to Swedish economy and symbolic identity, because it has a particular connection with the Swedish people daily lives and income. The bilateral transaction is by nature a prominence in the national realm activities, it is of enormous currency in the contemporary Swedish life and further of great national interests. The coverage of the news about the takeover was reported by Dagens Industri in a way that the Swedish beliefs and interests were clearly illustrated. In order to achieve those effects, the angles of the news were cautiously managed. In other words, the media do not only represent the event, but instead it constructs ways of seeing it. With the main goal of achieving sensational effects and new prospective bidders for buying Volvo, the event needed to be presented in negative ways, as conflictual, dramatic or controversial just to become newsworthy for the audience.
The audience reaction was not entirely unexpected. A group of Swedish investors got in touch with the American consortium Crown, with the main objective to participate in the purchase of Volvo. This in order to ensure that the "Volvo" brand was remaining in the hands of its nationals. This information was confirmed in the article published on January 12, 2010.
"A number of Swedish institutions have shown interest in becoming a partner of Volvo by accessing to the consortium Crown"
The representations presented during the Volvo- takeover became increasingly significant in accomplishing this task. These representations invited and evoked the "economic patriotism" among the audience, by highlighting the Swedishness through the representation of China. In many parts of the world, countries are creating diverse measures in order to protect domestic jobs and national interests from international companies. I would like then to argue, that this protectionist measure was taken by the Dagens Industri newspaper, which even after having a self-regulation continues to share mutual interests with the Swedish government.
The decisive power of the sale of Volvo was in the hands of Ford Motors, the former Volvo owner who bought the company 11 years ago. Then the intervention of the Swedish government in the transaction was not very successful and the takeover took place officially the 28 of March 2010, during this day the Chinese Geely cars manufacturer was declared as the new owner of the Volvo cars.
I believe that in an era of globalization such of measures and restrictions as "Economic Patriotism" are difficult to manage, this is just one of the challenges of the economic globalization. A process that already has shaped a new economy order creating unintended changes in the global economic system.