Posts tagged ‘lobbyism’

Saturday, February 15, 2014

World Radio Day, and how did Li Wai-ling get Fired?

February 13 (Thursday) was World Radio Day. That was an adequate day for the Hong Kong Journalists Association to bring Li Wai-ling (or Li Wei-ling, 李慧玲) and the press together. But let’s go through the issues one by one.

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages in applauding his works.

If everyone is happy, who needs a free press?

China’s growing economic weight is allowing it to extend its influence over the media in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, writes Reporters without Borders, in their 2014 report, published earlier this week. The BBC added a palpable story on Friday, about the sacking of Li Wei-ling, a radio talk show host at a commercial station in Hong Kong who has been sacked and who, on a press conference on Thursday, accused the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of having put pressure on her employer.

Organizations like Reporters without Borders have their merits. This may be even more true for the Hong Kong Journalists Association who organized Ms Li Wei-ling’s press conference. Reporters, talk show hosts and all the people who are critical and daring in the face of power deserve solidarity.

But this goes for reporters and journalists in Western countries, too. The problem with stories like the BBC’s, served to an American or European audience, seems to be that they blind people for problems at home. Here, too, broadcasters need to apply for frequencies. Here, too, they need to rely on political decisions when they are public broadcasters. On licence fees, or on public budgets. Advertisers, too, may exert influence.

My window on press freedom is small. The case I really looked at rather closely during the last years was that of the Chinese department at Deutsche Welle. I’m looking at these issues as a listener to and reader of the media.

This post might serve as the short version, and here is a longer one. They are about German politics, and the media.

The freedom of the press isn’t necessarily the freedom of a journalist to speak or write his mind, or to publicly highlight whatever scandal he or she may discover. This depends on a reporter’s or journalist’s employer, and frequently, reporters and editors-in-chief in the free world are very aware of when to better censor themselves, so as to keep their jobs.

This tends to be particularly true when a journalist’s contract is non-permanent. You don’t need state authorities to censor journalists when journalists’ employment is as precarious as is frequently the case in Western countries.

There is no point in pitting Chinese journalists against Western journalists, or the other way round. But there is a point in looking at every situation without ideological blinkers. Suppression of freedom from commercial organizations (and, sometimes, public-private networks) may still allow media that offer valid criticism of suppression in totalitarian countries – after all, that’s “them”, not “us”. Media in totalitarian countries can also, at times, provide valid criticism of media in freer countries. It is useful to read and listen to as many different outlets from as many different political systems as you can.

But there is no need or justification to blindly trust either of them. Without a broad global audience that develops criteria to judge press reports, freedom will get under the wheels of authoritarianism, even in – so far – free societies. The internet has become a place where journalists and their listeners and readers should meet, and be as honest with each other as they can. Its also the place where the struggle for freedom on the airwaves has to begin, time and again, whenever powers of whichever color try to weigh in on them.

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Related

» Radio Sparsam, Jan 26, 2014
» Authentic, Feb 16, 2013

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Radio Taiwan International Shortwave Issues: maybe not as China-Influenced as first reported

The high-level official meeting in Nanjing is in the international headlines, and once that happens, there’s probably nothing to add to what you couldn’t find elsehwere, too.

But a comment has reminded me that it’s time to keep track again of something else – Radio Taiwan International‘s (RTI) shortwave broadcasts. Sound of Hope (SoH), a Falun-Gong-affiliated broadcaster who rented airtime from RTI had said in summer 2013 that they had been asked to cut their airtime by half after the return of the KMT to power in the 2008 elections, and other allegations – as quoted by Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Chiang Kai-shek statement of resistance, apparently through a CBS microphone

Chiang Kai-shek’s statement of resistance on July 17, 1937, apparently speaking through a CBS microphone – click picture for info

This is what I wrote on June 8 2013. And this is a collection of links posted by Kim Elliott on July 12 2013. His links seem to suggest that shortwave airtime would hardly, if at all, be reduced once the relocations from Huwei and Tainan are completed.

A statement by Taiwan’s de-facto embassy to the U.S. published in a statement in Chinese on July 2 2013 (i. e. more than half a year ago and shortly after the Sound of Hope accusations), saying that plans for relocation had been  made as early as in 1997. The Executive Yuan had, at the time, told the Central Broadcasting System (CBS) to finalize the planning by 2004. The Taiwan embassy statement also reflected domestic Taiwanese politics in saying that DPP legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃), who herself represented a Tainan constituency, had on many occasions pushed for early removal of the towers to facilitate the city’s development.

Sound of Hope had been given assurances that the relocations would not affect the number of hours it can broadcast through RTI facilities and the services it received. It was regrettable that Sound of Hope had run reports without verification.

The official Taiwanese remarks seem to have gone mostly unnoticed or ignored. It’s obviously reasonable to follow stories over some time anyway, but especially when as contested, shit-stormed and “psy-oped” as they frequently are in cross-strait relations. The official Taiwanese reaction on the Sound of Hope and RFA allegations, in turn, was called into question by the Epoch Times, apparently Falun-Gong-affiliated as is Sound of Hope. This recent comment was very helpful in bringing me back to this story.

The proof of the pudding is the eating, of course. If any readers among you have information about how much airtime Sound of Hope currently gets from RTI, or if there have been changes in the airtime contract, or any other information on this matter, please let me know, by comment or e-mail.

Maybe even American and European RTI listeners will get the chance to listen to shortwave broadcasts directly from Taiwan again, sooner or later.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Press Review: the “Magic” of Third Plenary Sessions

The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee’s third plenary session is scheduled to begin on Saturday, and to close on Tuesday. The Economist is full of joy and great expectations:

When colleagues complain that meetings achieve nothing, silence them with eight leaden words: “third plenary session of the 11th central committee”. This five-day Communist Party gathering in December 1978 utterly changed China.

Why should Xi Jinping be in a position to repeat a similar plenum tomorrow, 35 years after the 1th Central Committee? Because Xi, and chief state councillor Li Keqiang, have assembled an impressive bunch of market-oriented advisers, and because Xi himself appears to have more authority than any leader since Deng. And he had done nothing downplay expecations.

press review

The outland expects nothing short of a (counter) revolution.

The Economist’s editorial mentions two fields on which the central committee – in its view – should focus: state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the countryside. The magazine has been banging on about the latter issue since March 2006 – if not earlier. In its March 25, 2006 edition, it suggested land reform (“how to make China even richer”), and it saw some of its expectations met in winter 2008, but the third plenum that Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao chaired in October 2008 proved an anticlimax.

If the next days should not produce spectacular decisions, neither the Economist nor the Financial Times appear to be too worried: bloated phrasing, the FT suggests, has not been an obstacle to far-reaching economic policy changes in China over the past 35 years. The FT also agrees with the Economist’s 2008 finding that

for Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor, the 2003 third plenum became a marker of his administration’s shortcomings. Mr Hu vowed at the plenum to tackle China’s unbalanced growth, but a decade later left office with the economy even more reliant on investment.

But contrary to the Economist, the FT doesn’t seem to believe that the input from the market-oriented advisers, assembled by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, will translate into results quite as dramatic as the think-tank papers. Incremental change would prevail.

One of the ideas – certainly not shared by all Chinese leaders alike – behind the right to farmers to sell their land is that the money earned from sales would enable them to start new lives in the cities or in urbanized areas. This would, apparently, require loosening or abandoning the household-registration system, even if some more conservative models of trading land-related rights rather seem to encourage rural citizens to stay where they are.

This should make sense – maybe not everywhere, but in many places. After all, Hu Jintao’s and Wen Jiabao’s caution wasn’t unfounded. The history of Chinese agriculture seems to have been about making farmers owners of their land – with concepts of ownership which most probably differ from our days -, even if for different goals. The idea then was to make agriculture work, not to make urbanization work. And time and again, land concentrated, back into the hands of small elites, Erling von Mende, a sinologist, suggested in a contribution for a popular-science illustrated book published by Roger Goepper, in 1988.*)

If a peasant in Gansu province sells his few mu of land – to a local developer, for example – and heads to a big city, one may doubt that his small capital would get him very far. He might return to his home province as a poorer man than ever before. It’s unlikely that the center would loosen all the brakes at once.

The most striking thing to me about recent foreign coverage of the plenary session aren’t the technicalities, however. It is the way China is being looked at as just another kind of political system. The potential of big business seems to have squashed ethical issues.

That’s not soft power, but it is Beijing power. A number of former foreign officials, among them Mexico’s former president Ernesto Zedillo and former British prime minister Gordon Brown, pilgrimaged to the Chinese capital to attend a conference of the 21st Century Council, a global think tank (apparently formed by them). They got an invitation for tea met with Xi Jinping, too, who informed them that China would not fall into the middle-income trap.

There is no reason to believe that elites who worship abusive power abroad will show more respect for human rights at home.

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Note

*) Roger Goepper (Hrsg.): “Das Alte China”, München, Gütersloh, 1988, pp. 164 – 166

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Related

» Is China misunderstood, Oct 24, 2012
» Middle-income trap, Wikipedia, acc. 20131108

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Obituary: Aaron Swartz, 1986 – 2013

Aaron H. Swartz was an American coder, hacker, and internet activist. His father, Robert Swartz, had developed one of the first IBM operating systems, and Swartz junior seemed to follow his father’s footsteps, even if in a rather new environment and with a distinct civic sense of mission.

Swartz joined Reddit when the company acquired (or merged with) Infogami, a software company founded by Swartz himself.

What got him into conflict with the judicial system, after some earlier and less significant jostles, was breaking into M.I.T. computer networks in 2010 and 2011, to access JSTOR and to download documents from there. It was apparently meant to be a demonstration, to underline his case that documents like JSTOR’s should be freely available. It had long been argued that such documents should be free because they are produced at public expense, writes the New York Times. The NYT has a detailed account of Swartz’ JSTOR activity. The indictment says that JSTOR’s servers were brought down by his action on several occasions, Wired wrote in September 2012.

It’s apparently a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) which was applied by federal prosecutors. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in limiting reach of the CFAA, said that violations of employee contract agreements and websites’ terms of service – crucial in Swartz’ case, apparently, at least if up to the prosecutors – were better left to civil lawsuits, also according to Wired. But this ruling wasn’t binding for Massachusetts, and the prosecutors insisted that their charges against Swartz should go on. The maximum penalty – potentially – could have amounted to 35 years in prison, and a million USD penalty. The chief prosecutor in charge was Steve Heymann, who had previously brought hacker Albert Gonzales into jail with a 20-year term.

One of the underlying arguments in Swartz’ conflict with the judicial system was about what internet content should be freely available. Another was about what constitutes a violation of terms and conditions (although this may rather be a judicial technicalty than part of the actual conflict). Apparently, the federal prosecutors could have dropped their charges, had they wanted to. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel wonders if the prosecutors were indirectly targeting Bradley Manning, and Wikileaks, and if that would explain their determination to see the case through.

Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday, in his Brooklyn apartment.

Court proceedings had been scheduled to begin on April 1 this year.

Swartz reportedly had a history of depression. But in an online statement released on Saturday, his family and his partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, wrote that decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death:

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.

Swartz’ ideology possibly seemed extreme, MIT Technology Review wrote in February 2012. The Review wrote that in September 2010, while siphoning the JSTOR database, Swartz was also circulating the first online petition to raise awareness of a controversial anti-piracy law. At the time, Swartz was putting together a website, as he said in an interview with the MIT Review, which ended up becoming Demand Progress.

Aaron Swartz’ funeral will be held on Tuesday, January 15.

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Related

» what brought him here, Lessig Blog, v2, January 12, 2013

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Got a Problem? Have it Banned!

There were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000, notes Wikipedia. The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, it says.

In 2008, 12,000 Americans were killed with guns, according to Business Insider, and according to a Violence Policy Center which was apparently published in 2011, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings.

In 2010, 3,648 human lives were lost in Germany – then the lowest number to date in a year (at least since 1953, the yearof the first statistic). No, people here weren’t shot by guns. They were road-traffic casualties. There are efforts to bring these numbers down further. But as long as these efforts don’t succeed, one has to conclude that more than 3,000 deaths in traffic accidents are apparently deemed an acceptable number.

Stop laughing. Driving a tractor is serious business.

Stop laughing. Driving a tractor is serious business.

One of my classmates died in a car-related accident. One childhood friend died in a car crash years after leaving school.

I’m not suggesting that America shouldn’t have tighter gun control. I have no clear-cut opinion about gun control in America – it’s not my business. But I can relate to both sides of the argument – to those who want tighter legislation (especially if they lost loved ones), and to those who oppose such changes.

What I dislike is the finger-pointing here in Germany: look at those ludicrous Americans! A right to bear arms! They are completely nuts!

It may depend on what matters to you. Most Germans find a life without a car inconceivable, and especially when they live outside the public-transport networks, they have a number of practical reasons for that. But even within Bremen, most people I know own or co-own a car.

Frequently, I have reason to fear cars – I’m going by bicycle, whenever I can. But don’t want to see cars banned, or car-related taxes be increased. Rather, I’d sometimes wish that car drivers were more considerate. Obviously, that’s mostly a matter of attitude, not of legislation.

I dislike bans and restrictions. We have too many of them already, and they always seem to come with “convincing” reasons. When people place more hope on politics for achieving restrictions, than for achieving a freer society, something seems to be wrong with our concept of politics.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another “Media Scandal”: Anti-CNN crops Li Qi’s “Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare”

The following is an article published by April Media (四月网) in October this year, a review of Li Qi‘s “Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare” (China-Albtraum der Deutschen Welle). Anti-CNN was turned into April Media in 2009.

Links within blockquote added during translation; I added my remarks about the review underneath.

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April Media’s Book Review

2008 was a memorable year. It was a year of a global uproar because of China, and it was a year where, for the first time, Chinese people became collectively excited. The uproar began with the Tibet incident in March that year, with the excitement going against Western media reporting and the way it had created an uproar for no reason. In the West, people took to the streets to protest against China’s “repression” of Tibetans, obstructing the torch ralleye to the Olympic Games which were for the first time held in Beijing. All over the world, Chinese people without an interest in politics also loudly expressed their anger at the West’s one-sided, distorted coverage.

2008是一个令人难忘的年头。那是一个世界因为中国而沸腾的年头,那是一个全世界华人首次全体激动起来的年头。那个沸腾始于是年三月的西藏事件;那个激动始于对西方报导及其引发的西方“无端”沸腾的不满。在西方,人们走上街头抗议中国“镇压”藏族人,阻挠首次在中国举办的奥运会的火炬之行。在世界上,从不关心政治的华人也站起来大声地表达对西方的片面、扭曲的报导的愤怒。

“The Voice of Germany’s China Nightmare” was written by a Chinese with many years of work experience in Western media, and describes what happened at the “Voice of Germany” and other German media from the Tibet incident to the end of 2011. It is a mere description, fully reflecting the predicament of Western media coverage on China with detailed material.

《德国之声的中国梦魇》这本书是一名在西方媒体工作多年的华人记者写的,记述了西藏事件至2011年底发生在“德国之声”和其它德国媒体中的事情。它仅仅是记述,是详尽的资料,但充分反映了西方媒体在中国报导中所处的窘境。这种窘境在20世纪末就已经发生,它至今仍然持续着。

The predicament, to say it clearly, is a kind of phobia against China’s rise. After hundreds of years of habitually reporting objectively, reflected in the law, they turned away from their own law and principles to a great degree. They can’t, for example, dare to mention the good aspects of China, even when the economy is the topic. They still have to involve politics, and within positive coverage, there still needs to be some criticism. Even in international disputes, there is a natural belief that China isn’t good. When it comes to the most recent Diaoyu Islands dispute, for example, Western media mostly use the Japanese name, clearly standing on Japan’s side, leading Western readers to a tendency which is just as clear.

这种窘境,说穿了就是一种对中国崛起的恐惧症。几百年来养成了客观报导的习惯、并将之大写在各种法律里的西方媒体,在很大程度上背离了自己的法律和原则:不能、不敢说中国好的方面,即使是谈经济,也要牵扯政治,在好的报导中也要有所批评。甚至在国际争端中,也自然而然地认定中国不好。比如在最近的钓鱼岛争端中,西方媒体大多用日本的岛名,明显地站在日本一边,导致西方读者也有了明显的倾向。

Within this “China isn’t good” discourse, within this envelope of China “phobia”, also on German television, radio, internet and in- and outside an international broadcaster’s television station – “Voice of Germany” -, a series of scandals occurred. In August 2008, ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, this station’s Chinese-department’s Zhang Danhong said on German television that China’s overcoming of poverty was a great achievement. It triggered attacks from overseas dissidents and German media. This grew into attacks on the comparatively objective and comprehensive coverage of the Voice of Germany’s Chinese department. Some overseas dissidents, quickly and at will, fabricated a deceptive representation of [Deutsche Welle] Chinese broadcasting and online departments that were “China-friendly” and “CCP-friendly”. Some German journalists and politicians blindly believed those fabrications without checking the accusations. The so-called “German Author Circle of the German Federal Republic” even suggested that the Voice of Germany’s Chinese department should be purged and be comprehensively supervised in its China coverage. A surge of open letters to Germany’s federal parliament emerged, and in a wave of at least ten open letters and several tens of German media reports, the German parliament also became involved. Chinese media surged, too.

在这种中国“不好论”、中国“恐惧症”笼罩下,于是在德国集电视、广播、互联网于一体的国际广播电视台“德国之声”内外,发生了一系列的丑闻。在2008年8月,北京奥运开幕之际,该台中国部张丹红在德国电视台说中国除贫是重大贡献,引起了海外异议人士和德国媒体的围攻。继而扩散到对在西藏事件等方面相对客观地、比较全面地展开报导的德国之声中文部的攻击。一些海外异议人士凭空捏造、随意组合,创建了一个“亲华亲共”的德国之声中文广播和网络部报导的假象。一些德国记者、政治家盲目地相信这些捏造,而根本不去核对那些指责。所谓的“联邦德国作家圈”甚至提出要清洗德国之声中文编辑部、全面监督对华报导。一轮向德国联邦议院发公开信的热潮涌现了,在先后至少十封公开信和几十个德国媒体的报导热潮中,德国联邦议院也插手了。中国媒体在这个热潮冲击下同样汹涌澎湃。

The final examination report shows that the allegations against the Voice of Germany’s Chinese editorial department were completely slanderous. Originally, this matter should have been over by then. But the Voice of Germany’s leaders got trapped in fear, and went into disarray. From early in 2009, this international media unit implemented” the original demands which had been comprehensively repudiated [by the investigation]: it invited people “immune against the CCP” to examine the reporting – in violation of Germany’s constitution, and editors who adhered to the legal principles of objective coverage were put under pressure, up to the expulsion of four editors and reporters.

最后的审核结论表明,对德国之声中文编辑部的指责纯属子虚乌有。本来,这件事情应该过去了。可是,德国之声领导完全陷入了恐慌之中,在胜利中自乱阵脚。从2009年开始,这个国际媒体全面“执行”了本来被它全面推翻了的对方的要求:请“免疫”于共产主义的台外人员对中文节目展开违反德国宪法的新闻检查;对坚持德国法律规定的客观报导原则的编辑、记者实施打压,直到把四名编辑、记者开除出去。

In October 2012, “Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare” was published by August von Goehte Lieteraturverlag [sic]. It describes, with detailed material, revealing many creepy scandals. Some examples as follows.

2012年10月出版的德语版《德国之声的中国梦魇》(China-Albtraum der Deutschen Welle,出版社:August von Goehte Lieteraturverlag)一书以详实的资料,记述了整个过程,揭露了许多令人毛骨悚然的丑闻。在此举例如下。

I’m not going to translate April Media’s list line by line, but only mention them very roughly here -

  • the way dissidents were believed and the inclination to believe them because of their suitable China-isn’t-good narrative;
  • how the Deutsche Welle management abandoned “the fruits of victory” (胜利果实);
  • how – in the eyes of many listeners and readers, April Media adds -, the station became a voice of dissidents and Falun Gong, etc., thus abandoning Deutsche Welle director’s assertion that they were neither CCP’s, nor of the dissidents’ mouthpiece;
  • the “monitor” (Jörg-Meinhard Rudolph), with an emphasis on how he allegedly objected to the term “mainland”, and demanding the use of “China” and “Taiwan” instead;
  • inviting a “Tibetan separatist” to comment on the Yushu earthquake, with politicized remarks not related to the earthquake, or referring to Xinjiang as East Turkestan;
  • violating the principles of objective journalism, and the German constitution;
  • “Lying in court”;
  • Falun-Gong guidance on German media and Deutsche Welle, beginning with the Zhang-Danhong affair.

After describing several episodes from “Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare”, April Media returns to the issue of “sinophobia”. While the book can’t solve problems, it can describe otherwise rather hidden issues, the reviewer suggests. And it “can also help Chinese people to understand the West and Germany more comprehensively”.

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Remarks

First of all, April Media’s review should not be held against Li Qi, in my view – just as the way Chinese media presented Zhang Danhong – a German citizen, btw, according to Li – as a Chinese-motherland-superhero four years ago, should not be held against Zhang.  Li Qi wrote the book, not April Media’s review of it.

The review leaves an important episode out – one that Li himself addresses in his book: Zhang Danhong’s “interview with herself”, i. e. an intern or – rather, according to Li – a newbie in the department asking the questions. Li would go along with the review in that the Deutsche Welle management “abandoned the fruits of victory” without need – but he does see Zhang’s “interview” as the turning point. The following is based on my understanding of Li Qi’s chapter on the issue. I’ll base the following paragraphs on my understanding of that chapter.

Zhang had a dispute with He Qinglian, a dissident living in America. He Qinglian had alleged that Zhang had asked her, in 2005, to write no comments commentaries for the department anymore, but rather to report about China. He Qinglian considered that a request to terminate her assignment with Deutsche Welle, because reporting about China was difficult when living in the U.S.. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, He alleged that the Chinese propaganda department had been involved in the decision.

Li Qi felt that he could relate to the anger of the department managers. After all, they had been targeted by He Qinglian.

But I felt that such remarks weren’t worth a debate. What mattered was that the absurd accusations that we had been red infiltrators had been staved off.

The online department manager suggested to care about more important things when Zhang approached her, asking if an online colleague could do the interview with her. Zhang did it anyway. The release online then apparently followed a misunderstanding about “intranet” and “internet”.

Here is the crux – in my view: the Deutsche Welle management certainly felt that they had done their best to defend the integrity of the Chinese department. They had faced criticism, public uproars, inquiries from politics, and had seen it all through. And there came some small-minded editors with a “the-winner-takes-it-all” mentality who wouldn’t want to spare a single point, when it came to the “enemy”.  To be clear – I’m speculating about the mindsets here.

“Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare” leaves the impression that Li doesn’t want to criticize the incident – but that he doesn’t want to condone it either.

Probably, nobody would have had to hit the roof (but Deutsche Welle’s top managers did, according to Li’s book). And the “interview incident” did pose questions about the department’s state of the art – , if nothing else had done that previously.

But the irony is that all this apparently turned into a political purge after all, rather than into continuous improvement (there’s no place where improvement would be unwarranted, is there?). And Li Qi and his colleagues were hardly to blame for the “interview incident”. According to Li, neither of the four online editors sacked in 2010/2011 was really responsible for the “self-interview”.

But April Media’s information – much of it apparently accurate, some of it half-true, and some of it – apparently – a wilful omission – is relevant all the same. It is relevant because it is among the media that cover the issue at all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

[Added:] Book Review: Li Qi’s “Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare”

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein, and that’s true. You get very different comments, depending on the language you use on the internet. I’m realizing that I should have written about Deutsche Welle in German much earlier, say, since 2008. The share of Germans who read English-language blogs is probably much higher than the share of Chinese who do so – because English and German are much more similar to each other than English and Chinese, or because we are culturally closer, etc.. But that doesn’t mean that you can “reach” Germans with English.

That said, you have to find media here who would actually accept posts about Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department. Der Freitag seems to be one.

The following is what I wrote there, in the community section. Think of it as the book review in English I promised on Tuesday.

Public Diplomacy. Qi Li is a German citizen. From 2001 to 2011, he worked at Deutsche Welle. The “expiration of his contract” was a big media topic in China. In Germany, it wasn’t.

When Zhang Danhong, deputy Chinese department manager back then, made controversial remarks about China’s political issues during public appearances more than four years ago, it was well documented by the media. No wonder: 2008 was the year of the Beijing Olympics, and the “China” topic topped the agendas of many German papers and broadcasters.

Not only Zhang’s public-appearance comments, at Kölner Stadtanzeiger (a paper) or Deutschlandfunk (radio) were controversial; Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department became controversial, too. Dissidents who lived in Germany wrote a letter to the German Bundestag (federal parliament) on September 13, 2008:

We believe that Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department – broadcasting mainly in Chinese – is, to a large extent, isolated from German society and functioning like an island. This has led to a striking deviation from Deutsche Welle’s mission statement, to promote democracy and human rights and to explain Germany to the world.

It wasn’t necessarily the first letter from dissidents against an allegedly misguided editorial department. And according to Li Qi, who published his working experience with Deutsche Welle’s Chinese online department (2001 – 2011) last month, it wasn’t that much the open letter written by the dissidents that got Deutsche Welle into hot waters, but a letter by the “Deutscher Autorenkreis” (German authors’ club) ten days later. Li:

I’ve learned through the years that Germans take Germans seriously. The dissidents’ letter didn’t unsettle Deutsche Welle or the Bundestag. They might have been ignored forever, even though many of them have taken German citizenship long ago. And Zhang Danhong, too, was constantly described as “Chinese” by German media, even though that wasn’t correct, in terms of citizenship.

Back then, Deutsche Welle reacted publicly. Zhang Danhong was temporarily suspended from work at the microphone, and lost her position as the Chinese department’s deputy manager. Above all, however, the Chinese department’s work – and that of the online editors in particular – was investigated. A translation agency translated the Chinese articles back into German, and former German ARD (channel-1) correspondent and “Tagesthemen” (a newsshow) editor Ulrich Wickert reviewed them. “You are free to decide about the results. You are completely free in this regard” (Sie entscheiden, was am Ende herauskommt. Sie sind völlig frei), Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Hans Leyendecker quoted Deutsche Welle director Erik Bettermann, months later.

Wickert’s findings: accusations of slanted China coverage were completely unfounded. Wickert didn’t only criticize that politicians had picked up the accusations unchecked, but also that the director, apparently because of public and political pressure … [took personnel decisions] hastily and unjustifiedly. To be clear, this wasn’t about Zhang Danhong’s public-appearance remarks, but about the Chinese editorial department’s work.

Wickert’s report remained unpublished. Different to the original allegations, it gave no rise to headlines. It took an inquiry by the Süddeutsche Zeitung to Bettermann, who reportedly rated Wickert’s report as “very good work – great”. Bettermann didn’t want to publish the report however, so as “not to revive the China debate again”.

When reading Li’s book, you can hardly escape the feeling that Deutsche Welle has been very successful at that.

Four online editors at the China department lost their freelance assignments or jobs respectively, in 2010 and 2011. If and how far the “freelance” assignments amounted to “employee-like” contracts (arbeitnehmerähnlich Beschäftigte), and if and how far the jobs had to count as temporary (befristet) can’t be discussed here. Some of that still seems to be disputed at the labor courts – Wang Fengbo expects his case to be at the federal labor court this month.

More interestingly, Deutsche Welle – despite Wickert’s acquittal – prescribed a “monitor” for the Chinese department, Jörg-Meinhard Rudolph from Ludwigshafen. Officially, he was meant to monitor style and language/expression, and to correct those, if need be. In fact, according to an open letter by the four former employees, he rated how “close” to the CCP (or how distant to it) articles written by the editorial department were.

It was an angry letter, published by the four at the online paper “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” in April 2011, and even just for its length, it was no journalistic masterpiece. But its content is mostly authenticated. Deutsche Welle employees committee member Christian Hoppe, quoted by EPD in May 2011:

Some of the letter’s phrasing had been overboard, said Hoppe, but by and large, the events in the editorial department were described accurately (die Autoren des „offenen Briefs“ seien „mit einigen Formulierungen über das Ziel hinausgeschossen“, würden jedoch “die Vorgänge in der Redaktion insgesamt korrekt wiedergeben”).

According to Li, Wang Fengbo and another colleague met a journalist in Cologne for two hours, in the evening on April 14, 2011. The journalist, himself a freelancer, “wanted to report about it, but didn’t know what his superiors thought” (Li’s account). “In fact, we never heard about a report at his paper.”

But another source did report, as quoted above. Li:

You can’t google the report, though, because it can only be read at “epd medien”. Press agencies like dpa, ap, epd enter their stories into a database. That’s how they make them available to the media.

The book – Li categorizes it as reportage – isn’t above the story. There is bitterness in some of its chapters. But it is a schoolbook for a number of cultural and political issues: “intergration“, suspicions of extremism, public diplomacy (and how it shoots itself in the foot, “politically”), journalism, labor law, and – one begins to suspect – about the despair of superiors who have to execute an agenda which can’t be plausibly explained to any reasonable contemporary.

Not least: about how a public institution (apparently) got into the eddying of a parallel society. That “parallel society” isn’t malign in the way rednecks would have it. It isn’t malign at all. But politics faces it without a clue, unprepared and sort of trigger-happy.

While the Chinese press reported – and someties raged – extensively, there was almost no German coverage. “Is the topic of no interest for German media?”, Li asks towards the end of his book. It’s not only him – Wang Fengbo, too, finds that hard to believe.

They aren’t Eva Herman or Susan Stahnke, obviously. Deutsche Welle may only be known to those Germans who, into the 1990s, took their shortwave receivers to Mallorca, or before travelling the world. But when it is about good journalism – at a public broadcaster (or a public media platform), public interest seems likely. And if one is inclined to believe that a number of Deutsche-Welle employees were wronged, this poses questions about the usual practice in our media: how well (or badly) do we actually want to be informed?

Li Qi: “China-Albtraum der Deutschen Welle”, August-von-Goethe Literaturverlag, Frankfurt a/M, 2012.
Only available in German.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Li Qi’s “China-Albtraum der Deutschen Welle”

My review of Li Qi‘s “China-Albtraum der Deutschen Welle” (Deutsche Welle’s China Nightmare), in German.

A review in English will follow here.

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