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Foreign media on China

The Second Danwei Plenary Session

The Session begins

Danwei's Second Plenary Session took place last week at Song in The Place in Beijing.

Two Chinese journalists who blog and make podcasts sat down with senior journalists from The Guardian and Channel 4 News to discuss the state of Western media reporting on China, and the Chinese media.

We set the topic long before the riots in Tîbet started, before the rise of tension in China about Western media reporting on Tîbet and the Olympics.

This is what we had set out to discuss when we planned the event in January:

In the run up to the Olympics, Western news coverage of China has become a topic of controversy both within China and abroad. Is Western news coverage fair? How biased is Chinese news coverage? What effects are new media such as blogs having on TV news, newspapers and other traditional media?

The speakers:

Flypig is an editor at Sohu.com, but best known as half of the duo that produce Antiwave (反波), China’s most intelligent series of podcasts that focus on foreign and Chinese media.

Jaime A. FlorCruz is CNN’s Beijing Bureau Chief and correspondent. FlorCruz has studied, worked and traveled in China for thirty years and reported extensively on the country as a journalist since 1980.

Raymond Zhou is a movie critic, blogger, columnist for various newspapers and the author of essays and several books about film, media and society.

Lindsey Hilsum is International News Editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News and the current China correspondent. She famously covered the Fallujah assault in Iraq in November 2004 and has extensive experience as a print and broadcast journalist in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

The speakers will be introduced by Danwei’s Robert Ness and the discussion will be moderated by Jeremy Goldkorn.

Raymond Zhou, Lindsey Hilsum, Goldkorn, Jon Watts, Flypig
Jaime FlorCruz had to pull out of the event. The workload of the Tîbet story and a trip out of China had destroyed his schedule as he diplomatically explained, but the death threats CNN's Beijing staff have been receiving can't have helped.

Jonathan Watts of The Guardian kindly agreed to take Mr FlorCruz' place, which was natural since he was one of the speakers Danwei wanted at future events, and he had just returned from a reporting trip, trying to get into Tîbet.

As the moderator and one of the organizers of the event, your correspondent was rather worried the day before. Mr FlorCruz's cancellation, the poisonous atmosphere on the Chinese Internet and the English language blogs about China (including Danwei), the new tension between Chinese people and foreigners — even long time China residents who love living here; none of this boded well.

But about 150 nice people showed up to the event, and it went smoothly. The audience, like Danwei's readership, was about 30% Chinese with the rest being foreigners — Americans, Brits, Australians, Poles, Italians, Israelis etc. After a discussion amongst the four panelists, we opened to questions from the floor.

I am happy to say that we had a thoroughly civilized evening: the discussion was, I believe, balanced, and the panelists and audience expressed both wariness of the Western media's tendency to stereotype China misleadingly, and the very real problems that journalists of Western media organizations are experiencing right now: in particular, that they can't get access to Tîbet to find out for themselves what is going on.

Two bloggers have written thoughtful posts related to some of the issues raised at the Session:

Cam of Zhongnanhai: The journalism divide: discussing the roles of east and west
Jeremiah Jenne of The China Beat: The Chinese Response to foreign media coverage of the 3.14 unrest (and also this related interview with James Miles of The Economist who was in Lhasa at the start of the riots:

From Zhongnanhai:

... an audience member asked a question regarding the use of the word "crackdown", and more specifically why western journalists use this word in relation to Tibet, but not in relation to the semi-recent riots in France...

... I generally feel "crackdown" doesn't necessarily come with negative connotations. For example, a Chinese "crackdown" on DVD piracy is generally believed to be a good thing (well, unless you like stocking up at the Lido). The problem, we felt, is that "crackdown" reminds people of the non-event in a big square in Beijing in 1989. To western minds, I would submit, a "crackdown in Tibet" conjures up images of peaceful monks praying for a modicum of freedom and peace while big, burly Chinese military officers come in to crack some skulls. If this is the perceived notion, then journalists should be careful when using the word "crackdown".

Jonathan Watts, the correspondent for the Guardian newspaper (who was filling in for an absent Jaime FlorCruz from CNN), said that he has struggled to use the correct terminology in his stories. Are the Tibetans rioters or protesters? Are the Chinese "cracking down" or "restoring order"? He said that he's used nearly all the terms, and makes a judgement call based on that individual situation. I believe that's as best as can be asked.

What vocabulary do we use to discuss China today? This is not only a fundamental problem for journalists, it's also a problem for the Chinese government. This is from a blog post by Lyndsey Hilsum written after the Danwei event:

It's hard to write about language when you're lost in translation, but even those of us who don't speak Chinese have noticed the extraordinary vocabulary used by the Chinese government since unrest broke out in Tibet.

The terminology has its origins in the Cultural Revolution, the era in the late 1960s and early 1970s when China tore itself apart with ideological fervour. Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party Secretary in Tibet, and widely regarded as a "hardliner" is the master of it.

"We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life and death struggle with the Dalai clique," he said in an editorial in the Tibet Daily last week, going on to describe the Dalai Lama as "a jackal dressed a monk's robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast."

Below are photos, and a Youtube video of part of the panel discussion. The photos are by Marie Wennberg, the video is by Shaan Khan. We'll have more video of the event on Danwei soon.

Photos by Marie Wennberg

Dror Poleg, and...?
Li Shan, Dan O'Brien

Li Shan, Schokora, Ness
In vino veritas
Bill Zhang; the east is red

Video of Q&A by Shaan Khan

UPDATE: Beijing Today published a story about the Plenary Session.

There are currently 8 Comments for The Second Danwei Plenary Session.

Comments on The Second Danwei Plenary Session

As a Chinese living in Canada for over a decade, I am furious with the irresponsible reports filed by the media staff working from China. It has came to my attention for many years that everytime there is a report about China, reporters never show the audience the two sides of the coin. As you know, most of the times, it is the negative side.
Yes sure China, as one of your easy targets to trash, deserves stricter scrutiny than Iraq war and other arocities in the developing world inflicted by "Superior" western powers. But as you guys living in China and interacting with the regular Chinese folks everyday, you should grasp a better picture than most of people here in the west. However for those filing biased report, they either lack of professional spirits of fair journalism or they, deep in their mind are fearful of Chinese rise which poses threat to their "higher moral standard".
As most of the Chinese saw the incident in Tibet, one particular western power is behind all this as you have seen in the Chinese internet forum. I am wondering how come not a single media outlet from the west is reporting this? I realized that it is just a orchestrated tune from your "higher moral standard" you are not supposed to trash this western power...USA???

Again, I finished watching the video. Regarding the last question on free press/media, one issue the panel forgets to address is the inherited cultural tendency towards not disclosing bad news. Chinese people believe it is a shame to let others know what is happening in your own backyard, kind of keeping it private.
If you look back say 20 years ago, the progress China has made on open media is unimaginable. The government takes a very slow but thoughtful step to adapt to the open media policy, but first they have to change this cultural tendency and also modify their pace accoring to what is happening outside of China, i.e. the opposing powers from the west that determine to make a chaos within the country just what they did in 1989.

It's a good session, but I have an useful suggestion. If you western journalist want to know true chinese, please find a chinese who may not speak english. BTW, I am sure you can find a free transltor to help you understand.

@D.Wang: if a chinese speak English does this means he is not a true chinese? what about you?


ROB说得有一定的道理,但我觉得略有偏颇之处.政治上的东西是很不好说的,正所谓有时候会"一失足成千古恨",有些事情也不要试图去谈真相.但作为中国的老百姓我知道,唯有新闻与言论更加开放和自由,那么事实也就越接近客观.中国有一句老话,身正不怕影子斜.何必怕大家说呢?何必怕大家监督你呢?如果不怕,那先让新闻报道更加开放,让网上言论更加自由,而不是一味地管制和过滤,否则,那样做又是为了什么? 这不由得会让人猜疑这样做的原因,不仅是外国人这样想,中国人也会这样想.我觉得,相对来说,中国还是个信息比较闭塞的国家,我想这不应该是技术上造成的,这是什么原因我想大家都清楚.中国还有很长的路要走.也希望"单位"的兄弟姐妹们继续努力,为大家奉上更加有价值的报道和文章!也"天真地"希望你们作为大众的领航员,能够将中国,世界引向一个更加良性,健康的方向.

To Jonathan Watts,
"...five years in China... my mandarin is rudimentary. " Huh? Are you playing Chinese style modest?


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