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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

China opens up with new media strategy

China's media is now powering up, in both size and dexterity. Along with its growing sensibility in international relation finesse, its handling of the media has developed too. What used to be a losing battle explaining itself to the sharpened, awfully one-sided analysis by foreign media is changing. China's media is increasingly becoming a nimble machine, a far cry from the deadset giant target it used to be. As powerful as the world's transnational media corporations are (mostly owned by the West), we must not forget 1 out of 4 people in the world are Chinese, and whose media do you think these Chinese will listen to, and be influenced by? Couple with this new strategem to intercept rogue thoughts about China, we are definitely on the brink, the cusp, of the brand new way China is seen.

related - read about China's 'media aircraft carrier here'. Also, check out an earlier story about China's growing open-ness when it dealt with the Xinjiang unrest here.


China opens up with new media strategy
Used during major crises, system aims to get its side of the story out fast
By Grace Ng, China Correspondent
Source - The Straits Times, Tuesday 11 August 2009

BEIJING: Set up press centres. Check. Inundate journalists with information. Check. Monitor all news and Internet opinions. Check.

Faced with mounting media pressures to be more open, Beijing has instituted a six-step routine to get its side of the story out quickly and beat the rumour mill.

Dealing with a more inquiring home audience and a legion of foreign journalists asking tough questions, it has used this system to handle crises like the recent riots in the north-western province of Xinjiang, a media strategy adviser to the State Council, or China's Cabinet, said yesterday.

Dr Steven Dong Guanpeng said the government will set up press centres speedily, churn out enough press briefings to 'keep journalists busy with good information so that they would not get busy with rumours', and continually post news updates online, among other measures.

Other steps include registering journalists upon arrival, setting up a database with media contacts, and collating all news and Internet opinions on the event.

The director of Tsinghua University's Global Journalism Institute, who trains officials on media management, was explaining China's new media strategy to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China yesterday.

The country earned some praise for allowing foreign media unprecedented access to the city of Urumqi to cover the clashes between Han Chinese and the Uighur minority group last month - after Beijing was slammed by the international community for locking reporters out of Tibet after riots erupted there last year.

Seen by some as an apologist for Beijing, Dr Dong - a former CCTV presenter - commended Xinjiang officials for 'doing a good job' in engaging the media by holding 21 press conferences in a single week.

Beijing's ultimate aim by being more open at home and pushing its state media to set up branches overseas, say observers, is to steer the global news agenda to be more in its favour.

Dr Dong did not spell that out but hinted that foreign media reports on China were, to the Chinese, 'still not satisfactory'. He said: 'We know some negative coverage is natural...that's what we should work on.'

Beijing has used its new media-handling standard operating procedure during major events and crisis situations, such as last year's Beijing Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake.

The next time a crisis strikes, 'we will stick to the same way and do the same thing', Dr Dong predicted. He dated the roots of this new wave of openness to Beijing's botched handling of the Sars outbreak, which was a turning point.

Like other observers, he noted that while China had invited foreign journalists into Tibet 'only quite a while after the riots' last year, the media was allowed into Xinjiang on the same day.

That, he said, helped make international coverage of the Xinjiang riots much more objective compared to that on Tibet.

But he added - without going into detail - that 'lots of things remain terrible' and he was upset by some of the coverage.

He criticised the domestic press for being slower than the major foreign news groups in covering the Xinjiang story.

That handicapped China's effort to tell its own story to the international audience, he said. Beijing, he argued, needs to pump in far more resources to give Chinese state media a stronger voice worldwide.

Beijing has been discussing this move to have its state media 'go international' since 2001, said Dr Dong. Of late, it has reportedly put in some 45 billion yuan (S$9.5 billion) to relaunch China's four key official media arms. Dr Dong, who refused to confirm those reports, suggested that it was 'a media-created figure'.

But there is no doubt that Beijing is serious about boosting state media's global reach and credibility, especially as Chinese netizens are increasing acting as watchdogs on the official version of news stories.

Last year alone, 84 officials - or about one-third of those hunted down by China's army of netizens through 'human flesh search engines' - were sacked after their wrongdoings were exposed online.

All that means Beijing will have to become more nimble in its media management, said Dr Dong. But already, he claimed, the space for journalism in China now is bigger than at any point in China's history.