Tag Archives: journalism

Happy Mao-mas!

24 Dec

maoAs you’re all tucking into your turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day, there’ll be a celebration of a slightly different kind up Beijing way. Yup, December 26th will mark the 120th anniversary of the birth of Mao Zedong, the man who launched 1,000 ironic t-shirts as well as being the founding father of modern Communist China.

Considering he managed to bump off an estimated 50 million of his own people thanks to a fateful combination of woeful economic mismanagement and egomaniacal hubris it’s a wonder the old chairman has managed to retain such iconic status in the Middle Kingdom. Well, I say it’s a wonder but it’s not really, considering the party he founded and swept to victory over Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang nationalists has always put self-preservation and media control above all else.

So it is 120 years after he was born that the man who now sits in his throne at the apex of state and party, Xi Jinping, is turning the screws even more on the country’s media. You’ve got to hand it to the Party, this time last year it was difficult to see how media controls could even get any tighter.

New guidelines released this week urge the industry: “Strengthen the management of the media, do not provide channels for the propagation of the wrong points of view”. Ostensibly this is a request to self-regulate, but we all know what the alternative is: sack-cloth, unmarked van, detention.

As if that weren’t enough there are plans to put local propaganda officials in charge of the journalism programmes at 10 of China’s top universities. This takes care of the next batch of freshly pressed, brainwashed reporters, but what about those who may still harbour some desire to dig for the truth in modern China? Well, Xi’s thought of that too. Back in August the Party announced that China’s 300,000+ hacks would be sent back to school to study Marxism classes.

“I’ve studied Marxism for so many years, the more I study it, the less I understand it,” a Beijing-based journo told the SCMP.

You know what? I think that’s exactly the point.

Happy Mao-mas everyone!

Andrea Yu: flack, hack, discuss

16 Nov

andrea yu hodgkinsonI was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s 30 anniversary on Ice House Street last week. Now I do like to complain about the patchy Wi-Fi, the braying, ruddy-faced “it’s all gone downhill since ‘97” members and the lack of pork scratchings at the bar, but it’s actually pretty bloody good. Not only can you get sozzled for around a tenner – no easy feat in Hong Kong – but to be surrounded by faded images and clippings from some of the defining moments of the 20th century is pretty awe-inspiring for a hack. From the savage conflicts in Vietnam and Korean, to Nixon toasting Zhou Enlai and Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek celebrating after the Japanese surrender, the reportage scattered all over the walls of this venerable old building tell of brave journalistic deeds.

This long pre-amble is to put into context the rather depressing PR efforts of the Communist Party and the plight of one particular ‘journalist’ at the centre of the only interesting thing to happen during the Party Congress this week – Andrea ‘Yu’.

Now, Yu sprung to fame by virtue of being one of the few foreign journalists during the endless Congress press conferences to be picked by officials to ask questions. In uber-paranoid China, only hacks from the state-run press are usually called upon, because the Party would rather not open the floor to those who might asking challenging questions. However, it turns out Yu, much to the chagrin of other laowai journos at the event, was picked on four separate occasions to ask questions. Hmmm.

In her defence she told WSJ that she was chosen so frequently by virtue of sitting in the same spot at every press conference and by making direct eye contact with the moderator. Really? It’s that simple? Oh, no, there’s one other, minor reason why she kept on getting picked: her employer, Australia-based Global CAMG Media International, is actually majority owned by Chinese state-owned media, and her Chinese colleagues wrote all her questions down for her.

Thus, we were treated to gloriously incisive questions such as: “Please tell us what plans and policies the Chinese government will be implementing in co-operation with Australia.” Or how about the challenging: “After the 18th Party Congress, what policies and measures will there be to support overseas Chinese media to publicise and promote Chinese culture, to propel Australian-Chinese cultural exchanges to the next level?” Brilliant. Worthy of Paxman, that one.

If you want to hear the hapless Yu explain herself, prepare to cringe at the following interview with a real Ozzie hack.

I was undecided whether Yu was simply a naïve young hack who did her best – in fluent Mandarin and English, no less – at an intimidating event and with employers who expected a certain line of enquiry from her. And then I found out from Beijing Cream that her real name is actually Andrea Hodgkinson. How do we know? Because she is referred to thus on the cover of a Chinese magazine where she appears in a rather lovely dress. CAMG apparently tweeted a picture of that magazine cover, and then hastily deleted said tweet. Something to hide guys?

You may ask, with the entire weight of its state media to ask soft questions, why did the Party effectively get a foreigner on board to do exactly the same? Well, it’s all about cache, and seeing a white-face-round-eye serving up the kind of embarrassingly banal questions that make Charlotte Church look like David Dimbleby was all part of China’s ongoing attempts to legitimise its one party system and soften its image in the eyes of international onlookers. In its insulated, culturally homogenous cocoon the Party obviously believed it could get away with it – that no-one would notice or mind that it had hired an attractive young bilingual laowai to basically do its own PR.

At the FCC event last Friday, chief secretary of the Hong Kong government, Carrie Lam, spoke eloquently and passionately about the Club, about Hong Kong and about the importance the new administration attaches to press freedom. Seeing what happened across the border this week makes those words even more telling. If ‘Yu-gate’ was to be the first salvo in the new Party leadership’s soft power media efforts, then let’s hope this initiative at least has been well and truly raped in a ditch.

Sacré bleu! China’s hacks need to go back to school

24 Jul

tour de franceHere’s another snapshot into the insanity of Chinese online censorship and terrible journalism, courtesy of Illuminant, a PR agency based in the People’s Republic.

As the firm points out in this post, a news story broke all over social media in the country that a whopping 1,832 riders never finished this year’s Tour De France cycle-fest.

No, you haven’t been so drip-fed news by western media of British hero Bradley Wiggins’ epic victory as to have missed this massive story – it is in fact complete and utter bollocks.

What happened, according to Illuminant, is that state-run news wire Xinhua accidentally typed that 156 out of 1,988 riders finished the race. In reality, only 198 took part – the extra ‘8’ being nothing more than a simple typo.

All this would have been forgivable but then the People’s Daily – the Communist Party’s mouthpiece and one of the giant’s of the Chinese newspaper industry – jumped on this stat and put out its own story based on the apparent shockingly low number of finishers.

This in turn was duly cut-and-pasted without any fact-checking by the four biggest web portals in China – Sina, QQ, Sohu and Net Ease – which between them are read by more than the total online population of most nations.

So what do you think happened as a result?

An edict from the Party clamping down on poor standards in journalism? New regulations designed to make journalists more accountable and to force them to source any news first hand?

Well, probably none of the above actually because they have already happened. Last year.

Nothing is likely to be done as a result, however, for one very good reason.

Although the aim of the new regulations, which could even end in prison sentences and a career-ending sacking for erring hacks, was ostensibly to improve standards in journalism, it wasn’t really.

It was actually brought in to control the spread of ‘harmful rumours’ online. These rumours, of course, being harmful to no-one but the Party. A cock-up reporting the Tour de France is not exactly going to cause the collapse of communism in China and so will no doubt be left alone.

By contrast, when rumours emerged online that there may have been a coup in central Beijing all hell broke loose – arrests, web sites shut down and comments suspended on some of the biggest social media sites.

The lesson from all this is pretty clear: China’s a great place to be a terrible hack, just stick to covering meaningless sporting events on the other side of the globe.