There is a quiet revolution taking place in the world of Chinese official media. In the beginning Xinhua (or whatever its first incarnation was known) was the word, and the only word. China had only media commandment; “Thou shall have no other media outlet before Xinhua.” Xinhua was the eye and the ear of all denizens of China as also of the other media outlets that Chinese officials had set up, whether in the name of a government or the party.
In between came the internet revolution. Internet savvy Chinese saw an opportunity to find a crack in the media firewall that China had build around them. More and more Chinese began to have access to an alternative media channel that began to worship gods other than Xinhua. Online activism began to make its mark, whether it was personal blogs or public petitions. This battle continues even today.
The media czars in China of course did not like this development. In response they recruited “Internet security officers” to monitor the activities of China’s netizens.
But Beijing needed a better solution and they seemed to have found the same through the simple adage, “If you cannot beat them, join them.” We thus heard of Chinese officials hiring citizens to post “personal” comments favorable to the government on the different internet outlets just to prove that the Chinese people” were solidly behind the Party.
May be as a precursor of the arrivial of “free media” we have also seen the abnormal development of at least two instances where one official Chinese media outlet has publicly contradicted and corrected the report of another equally credible outlet.
I want to put the recently established Global Times in the same category. It is different from Xinhua in that it has a semblance of having views that do not necessarily seem to echo the official line. It even has the audacity to comment on the Chinese government policy positions (rather than merely announcing them), similar to how the media in the free world acts.
The latest example of this is its editorial of today (September 7, 2009) titled, “Under the microscope, China shows courage.” In gist the editorial says China has the courage to confront challenges as it prepares for the October 1 National Day. So far, so good. But has China really become a nation of courage and confidence? The editorial said, “With maturity and an open mind, today’s China is more prepared than ever for scrutiny anytime, from anyone.” I am taking up this challenge by scrutinising China’s official CCTV’s coverage of H.H. the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan.
I agreed with the Global Times editorial that “Details determine history.” I read almost every word that the official Chinese media put out in English relating to the Dalai Lama’s Taiwan visit. Similarly, I tried to watch every footage of CCTV’s coverage of the visit that was available here in the United States. I was not surprised that the coverage was dominated by the protests (of which I had written in my earlier blog) by some people. Afterall, China has to put out the spin that the Dalai Lama was an unwelcome guest in Taiwan. As the editorial itself said, “being under the microscope implies the magnification of every detail, regardless of its size.” Therefore, it serves China’s short-term political interest to magnify the protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit.
What surprised me was that in the very many reports that CCTV devoted to the visit of the Dalai Lama, something was missing. It dawned on me then that I had been watching a dramatization of the epic, Gesar of Ling, seeing the very many “warriors”, hearing the name “Gesar” now and then while not seeing even one image of “Gesar” himself. To put it simply, the official TV media of the mighty China did not have the courage and the confidence even to show the visual of the Dalai Lama to its citizens even while feeding them negative thoughts about his visit. China’s CCTV seemed scared to show the face of this simple Buddhist monk to the Chinese people. I guess the Chinese leadership cannot be seen to lose their “face.” This is not certainly a sign of “maturity and an open mind” or the way for China “to showcase itself as a nation riding the wave of unprecedented economic and social development in the past 60 years.”
The era of Global Times (with its plethora of foreign editors) notwithstanding, I think the Chinese propaganda people will have to do much more than indulging in “cheap trick” (not my word, it is in the editorial), if it wants to show that China has become a responsible player. As of now China’s actions speak much more than its words, whether on Tibet or any other issue. And the actions do not seem to be confident ones.