Professor Susan Shirk, together with Matan Vilnai, Israel’s Ambassador to China and Alexander Pevzner, Director of the Chinese Media Centre
The Rishon LeZion based College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS) was founded in 1978, and has been an Israeli degree granting institution since 1986. Rishon LeZion is a small, modern city a few miles south of Tel Aviv.
Today the College offers Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Business Administration, Law, Media, Economics, Organizational Development and Consulting, Computer Science, Behavioral Sciences, Family Studies, Interior Design and Psychology.
With 12, 000 students and over 40, 000 alumni the college plays a key, student-centric, role in modern Israeli higher education; including in its mandate the preparing of its students to go out into the world of business afterwards; ready in a practical, as well as theoretical way, for the tasks ahead.
An example of the college’s innovative approach can be found in its School of Media Studies – the largest such school in Israel – which has just launched a Chinese Media Centre as part of its campus programmes.
The new Centre will maintain regular contact with Chinese print, digital, broadcast and social media, facilitating greater understanding of Israel in China, and will also conduct its own independent research into media systems throughout China as well.
Leveraging the college’s state-of-the-art facilities and media and communications research centres, the Chinese Media Centre will connect Israel and China in a systematic dialogue with scholarly and professional exchanges.
The Chinese Media Centre at COMARS is the first of its kind in the Middle East, joining only three such centres anywhere in the world – in Hong Kong at the University of Hong Kong, in London at the University of Westminster and in Los Angeles, at the University of Southern California.
Alex Pevzner, the Centre’s founding Director expresses the utility of the new centre to Israel quite succinctly, “Chinese media is highly interested in Israel, particularly in non-political content. Stories about Israel, which focus on Israel’s strengths in fields of high importance to the Chinese, such as food security and agri-tech, high-tech, med-tech and clean energy can help cement both economic and political ties between the two nations.” In addition, says Pevzner, “For Israel it is imperative to understand the Chinese media, as it serves both as a window into China and China’s voice to the outside world.”
Media studies, and indeed communications studies in general, clearly can have legitimate objectives in the world of political and international relations beyond purely theoretical forms of academic study, and so it is here. Israel needs to understand China better on many grounds, and studying its many forms of media is obviously a good place to start; and, similarly in reverse.
Mandarin Chinese today is the world’s most spoken language, used by 1.4 billion people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and the Chinese diaspora. The growth of the Chinese media and its global reach is the end result of more than three decades of economic reforms inside China, and an increasing global profile, making it a crucial component in understanding the way China is changing and the implications of these changes.
One of the Centre’s goals is to promote student and journalist exchange programs, from Israel to China and vice-versa. China has over 2, 000 newspapers and the highest number of Internet users in the world, 618 million.
With a thriving social media ecosystem unique to China, the Chinese are active social media users and increasingly get their news from the Internet.
(L-R) Marty Karp, of the California Guilford & Diane Glazer Foundation, with Dr. Ann Swersky and Professor Susan Shirk
To open the new Centre last week Professor Susan Shirk, a China expert and former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State during the Clinton administration gave an inaugural lecture and discussed her book Changing Media, Changing China (Oxford University Press).
Shirk is currently a professor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and a Senior Director of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm.
Shirk told the audience made up of Israeli dignitaries, diplomats, academics and students, “Changes in the media, if you look at China across the board, are second only to changes in economy in terms of their significance. There’s a perception out there that Chinese people are still basically being fed propaganda, but the reality is much more complicated. The commercialization of the media, the growth of the Internet, has narrowed the information gap, and I think that’s a major change for China.”
Shirk praised the new Centre as an important effort to contribute to Israeli understanding of China.
Israel’s Ambassador to China, Matan Vilnai, also attended the Centre’s opening and said, “The Chinese government listens to the public so helping to create a positive image will strengthen Israel’s security by presenting Israel in a positive way. ” He also added that he looks forward to cooperating with the Chinese Media Centre from the Israeli Embassy in Beijing and remarked how excellent it was to see such a “forward looking project.”
COMAS also signed a cooperation agreement two months ago with the University of Science and Technology Beijing, one of China’s leading and most prestigious universities.
The city of Rishon LeZion is also already a twin city of Tianjin, which is China’s fifth largest city. Initial funding for the new Chinese Media Centre is being provided by the Glazer Family Foundation, represented at the opening by Marty Karp, and the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust.