Editor's Note: The state of China's press freedom and violations of media rights is discouraging. 44 journalists are in jail for accusations that range from subverting government authority to recording protests on cell phones. This is not news. What is news is that foreign journalists are not just being censored for reporting on sensitive political issues these days, some are being hired to propagate the party's narrative, journalism ethics be darned. Is the Chinese media putting foreign faces onto party propaganda as an attempt to influence foreigners to side with the government's policies? This translated article explores this question.
In today’s international world, young Europeans and Americans are curious and want to explore the world. Some come to China to work for China’s state media.
The young journalists grew up and were educated in Western countries. They were taught ideas like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, when working in the Chinese media, reports inevitably encounter tasks that involve censorship and propaganda. How do these Western journalists strike a balance between writing news and writing propaganda?
“We Knew the Rules of the Game Before We Came In”
I rode the press bus along with several foreign correspondents to an event in Huizhou. The foreign men were handsome, and the women were elegant. They took the initiative to greet others on the bus and introduce themselves. Many exchanged business cards with their seatmates.
Some foreign journalists work for Chinese national propaganda newspaper such as Beijing Review and China Today. Others work for English-language newspapers and magazines like Global Times, China Daily and Shanghai Daily.
Generally, Chinese employees of the newspaper research and write the articles. The “foreign experts” are in charge of polishing and editing the articles. Foreign employees spend most of their time working in the office, and usually are not out in the field conducting interviews. It is quite rare to see several at a press expert, like at this one in Huizhou.
I was especially impressed by foreign journalists’ level of Chinese. Almost all of them were fluent in Chinese, and some even interviewed local officials in Chinese during the trip.
A few of the foreign journalists turned out know three or four languages. At dinner, one American correspondent chatted in Japanese to his neighbor on the left, spoke to me in English, and then spoke in Spanish with another reporter across the table.
Foreign journalists in China have proven to be very adaptable in other ways as well. Censorship is a necessary reality for news teams in Mainland China. The media in China often plays a guiding role, and reports must check if the political position of articles are correct.
At dinner, I asked the foreign correspondents whether or not they have adapted to China’s censorship laws? They smiled, and one said, “We knew the rules of the game before we came in.” They must make compromises to work within the Chinese system.
Tools of the CCP?
Although they work for the Chinese media like I do, there are some companies and officials, and ways of thought that they do not agree with.
During the welcoming ceremony at Huizhou’s Petrochemical Park, the deputy director ended her speech by saying that she hoped that her “friends in the foreign media” would do more to publicize Huizhou and write positive coverage.
The foreign correspondents and I exchanged glances, and laughed. I thought to myself: we really do not know where the hearts of these foreign correspondents lie. Foreign journalists are not propaganda tools for the CCP.
The media trip to Huizhou was part of a larger Guangdong tour called “See Guangdong.” The event is in its seventh year and is organized by the Guangdong Provincial People’s Government Information Office and the Guangdong Foreign Affairs Bureau. The trip is very short and rushed. Our days are pretty much: “sleep on the train, get off to pee, take pictures at attractions, repeat.”
On the day that we toured the Huizhou Petrochemical Park, the local government’s intention is very clear. They want to take the opportunity to promote the city’s petrochemical development and environmental protection efforts to the world.
Unfortunately, when we reached the Daya Bay Petrochemical Industrial Park, the air monitoring device was malfunctioning, and information about the number of residents living near the park was not given. Reporters could not see how many people were living near the park from their vantage point, so the presentation was not informative.
This year, representatives from seven foreign media organizations attended the event including the New York Times, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Japan’s NHK and Yomiuri Shimbum, Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao, and BBC China. Reports from Hong Kong, Macau, China’s central media outlets and Guangdong outlets also attended. There were 40 reporters total in the group.
At every interview, the company or organization wanted to take publicity photos, and they always asked for a foreign journalist to be included in the picture. The foreign journalists often waited outside when it was time for photos, and did not seem like they were having fun.
The foreign journalists tried to work with the local government’s needs. For example, in a press conference with the local government in Huizhou, a foreign reporter asked what seemed to be a scripted question to a local official. The official responded by reading from a manuscript for 15 minutes.
Propaganda with a Foreign Face
China has tried to use more foreign faces and voices in its recent outreach efforts. To promote the Five-Year Plan of the 13th Party Congress, China put out the “Shi San Wu,” viral video sung by foreigners who rapped about the government plan.
When Chinese president Xi Jinping visited the United States in September, the government-run People’s Daily made a video titled “Who is Xi Jinping?” In the video, the newspaper asked foreign students in Beijing what their thoughts were on the Chinese president.
While both videos were popular online among foreigners, they were even more popular among Mainland Chinese.
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Keywords: China journalism propaganda Chinese journalists
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I think it is a good learning experience for a young and start-up journalist. A smart person can learn allot about how to appreciate the freedom of the press. To learn how vital it is to a democracy. They will learn quickly how to recognize the users and losers in the world. For those would-be journalists who are smart enough to catch on, they will do very well. We will learn what the dictators are trying to tell the world through these young and experienced people. The "using" by the CPC works both ways. Mostly in the favor of the "free" world.
Feb 19, 2017 00:25 Report Abuse
Foreign journalism is already nothing but a mouthpiece for Israel and its Zionist lapdogs, like the USA or the UK. Anyone who works in western mainstream media is already used to saying just what they're told. I don't see much of a stretch.
Jan 14, 2016 23:07 Report Abuse
As to the 'Editor's note'on this piece: 'press freedom.. blahh.. violations of media rights.. yaddah.. discouraging.. yawn.. "some are being hired to propagate the party's narrative' etc.. See also the ongoing ramping up of The War Against Terror, (or TWAT, for short) incessantly being propagated by the entire western media mogul machine, vis a vis 'Let's all bomb Syria, we've already wrecked Iraq, Libya etc etc'.
Nov 30, 2015 21:31 Report Abuse
Let's get some perspective here. ALL of the western media does exactly the same thing. ALL of the western media is owned, - it's 'in the pocket'. From Reuters to The Times to The BBC. Yes Auntie BEEB too. Period. There is no such thing as a free press in the west and there hasn't been for a long long time. These journalists in China are certainly no worse than pretty much any journalist working in the west. What they write has to be in line with whatever 'the executive' (collectively, or corporately) wish. Fact. Of course there are agendas. To think otherwise would be utterly naive. There are agendas everywhere. In every country. Get over it! I worked for a large national daily newspaper in England for six years. If anyone doubts what I say please refer to MediaLens (dot com) or John Pilger. (the last true journalist with any credibility apart from maybe George Monbiot, sometimes.. when he let's his ego drop) As for credibility, loyalty, honour.. ethics.. umm.. Let's face it.. these are not words one has ever been able to apply in conjunction with journalism anyway, no matter where, or in whomsoever's name. ;>
Nov 30, 2015 21:12 Report Abuse
I too agree that journalism died a slow death quite some time ago. While journalism in the West has had its credibility compromised journalism in China is a whole different kettle of fish. There is a difference between editorial bias and wholesale lying.
Dec 02, 2015 11:29 Report Abuse
Journo's who work for Chinese media are completely lacking in credibility. Honour, too. By doing so they are ethically bereft. They must be differentiated from journo's who work in China for foreign organisations. These journo's are frustrated, but still have honour. China is a sad country. A pathetic country. The people just accept the status quo, so what does that make them? Realists, I guess. I feel sorry for Chinese people. The genuine ones, that is. The ones who play the game and fuk over whomever they can? - I hate those immoral bastards.
Nov 30, 2015 19:29 Report Abuse
Barrie--I certainly do. It's different in pretty much every country that I have been to. I've lived in Peru, Kenya, Italy, and now Vietnam. I haven't met people like Mainlanders outside of China. So uniform in their greed and selfishness. You get morally bankrupt people in Vietnam...but you don't meet a new one every ten minutes, like China.
Dec 02, 2015 13:12 Report Abuse