Thursday, March 27, 2008

some thoughts of media and Chinese government

This morning I was listening to our public radio station doing a piece on the current Tibet situation. Now I don't really want to get into the whole thing about Tibet since it is way too complex than I can understand but I did notice one thing. In the segment, the host interviewed the Spokesperson for the San Francisco Chinese Consulate on his opinion about the current riot and crackdown situation. and I was completely shocked about how bad his English is. You would think being a "SPOKESPERSON" he should at least be fluent in English. He also spent a large part of the interview basically regurgitate parts of some press release that he obviously memorized for this interview. You can tell because suddenly he would stop mumbling and stuttering and speak fluent perfect English for 10 sentences and then go back to sounding like an idiot. I was totally appalled at the unprofessionalism. How can he not sound like a mindless puppet if he acts this way during an real interview where he has the opportunity to get his view across?

Now that has got me thinking about something. The Chinese government and press has been yelling, nay, screaming for the whole week that the Western media is biased in its reporting about the Tibet incident. This is however, completely their own fault for not allowing journalists to be in Tibet and to be open about what is happening (good and bad). What do they expect? When you stop the flow of information, what can western media do but listen to whoever will talk to appease their readership? Now today when finally given a small chance on radio for the Chinese official position to be heard, the spokesperson completely waste it by sounding like an idiot.

Now I am not so naive as to think that American free press is unbiased and objective in their reporting (see Manufacturing Consent, the book read by all journalists graduating in U.S.) But one thing that the American government and corporation has learned to do over the years is how to "control the message". They have perfected the art of manipulating the press for their agenda. I mean the current presidential candidates each have a team of people whose sole purpose is to figure out ways to utilize the 24 hour news cycle to get their message out and block the opponents message. It is a fact of life over here that public relations is of utmost importance. One rule is that you NEVER EVER send someone out to talk to the media who can't get the message across cleanly and persuasively. But, in China, they are way way behind in this concept. Perhaps it is due to the lack of free press that they never have to deal with this issue and therefore are completely unprepared for the modern world of the Internet and 24 hour news channels. But they have completely antiquated concept of message control and PR. They still think that public opinion can be controlled by selectively broadcasting news. But in the Internet age, they are not fooling anyone, not even their own citizens. It just makes them appear guilty and unreasonable.

For example, if the Chinese government were a little more competent and savvy, they could have given exclusive but free and open access to Tibet during the aftermath of the riot to certain newspapers that are carefully selected, no bribery or intimidation needed. If the newspaper knew that they have exclusive access, they will automatically paint a more pro-government picture because they know if they don't, their exclusivity (and readership) can be easily given to a rival newspaper. This is a super simple way of getting the media to report something you want them to report (since the Chinese government is so paranoid about it) and appear reasonable and open in the world's eye. Now that opportunity is lost, and what is the point of organizing journalist tours as if they are touring Disneyland?

They have never learned how to do this in all these years of China bashing by the world so they have no one to blame but themselves if the public opinion is not shaping up the way they hope. In order to change perception of the world about them, they must learn how to integrate with the rest of the world's press. So really, the current Chinese government is not evil, they are just supremely incompetent and too afraid to let people know.

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