Innovative Guidance of Public Opinion: China Radio International’s “Independent Journalists”

On March 25, 2014, the Chinese Journalists Association held a seminar in the Association’s press room, according to an article published by the organization. Both the 2014 “National People’s Congress” (NPC), China’s alibi parliament, and the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference”,  had ended about two weeks earlier. The combination of the two is frequently referred to as lianghui (two sessions). The pattern of the seminar didn’t seem to stand out, it was about “implementing the party’s 18th National Congress’ and the 18th Central Committee’s third plenary session’s spirit”, exchanging or sharing experience made with innovative news reporting methods (交流两会新闻报道中的创新经验做法), and with new explorations in increasing the ability or skills of guiding the public (提高舆论引导能力方面所做的新探索).

The beginning was pretty ordinary indeed, if you go by the Chinese Journalists Association account. The deputy director of China Radio International‘s (CRI) central editorial office, Zhang Hui (张晖), provided the participants with lots of statistics:  the “two meetings” had been covered in 55 foreign languages, four national-minority languages, five Han dialects and in standard Chinese, with more than 620 headlines. In form of written pieces or by radio, CRI covered the meetings in 42,000 news items and in 3,800 background reports, using 7,600 photos in the process. Radio reports had been broadcast on shortwave, medium wave, and digital frequencies, covering 160 countries or regions worldwide, in more than fifty foreign languages, Han dialects, and in standard Chinese. According to yet incomplete statistics (by the time of the seminar, that is), CRI had, during the NPC and CPPCC sessions season, received more than 72,000 messages from overseas listeners in more than 160 countries or areas, by letter, telephone, fax, email, and texting.

Many interviews had been recorded, in many languages, with important people, such as the Serbian prime minister, ambassadors from Russia, Mexico, Columbia, Italy, Mongolia and sixteen more states, and foreign parliamentarians and other foreign visitors had conveyed their positive assessments of China’s achievements. A multi-medial approach had been taking all along the way, Zhang told the seminar.

So far, so traditional. And there were tons more of that. Somewhere along the way, Zhang Hui’s shared experience would have sent most foreigners to sleep. But there’s also that magical moment in a Chinese talk, somewhere, when things begin to become more important, and when a Chinese participant would wake up, heeding an intuitive sense of timing, and when he or she really starts listening, at least with one ear.

Zhang Hui  – according to the published record, anyway – had arrived at the innovative aspects of CRI’s lianghui coverage:

CRI brought foreign media forces into play, promoted the localization of production, of distribution, and interaction, put the leading role at the front into effect, and reported globally. 1. Localization leads production and broadcasting closer to the audience. During the past years, CRI has leaned on companies to increase the pace of the “go-out policy”. In the main cities of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, South Korea, Albania, and other countries, localization in research, production, distribution and in the work processes was achieved. Overseas media clusters played a particular role. An FM broadcaster in Lisbon transmitted a special program (“An ABC of the Sessions”), hot issues, guest interviews, foreign press reviews, etc.. An FM station in Bangkok transmitted the story of the two meetings in unceremonious language.

国 际台调动海外媒体力量,推进本土化制作、发布和互动,实现两会报道阵地前移、报道全球覆盖。1.本土化内容制播贴近受众需求。 近年来,国际台依托公司化运作加快“走出去”步伐,在泰国、老挝、柬埔寨、韩国、阿尔巴尼亚等多个国家的主要城市,实现了本土化采集、制作、发布和运营。 两会报道中,海外媒体集群发挥了独特作用。葡萄牙里斯本调频台播出特别节目《两会ABC》、热点问题、嘉宾访谈、外媒评论等。泰国曼谷调频台在《缤纷世 界》栏目中,以轻松活泼的形式讲述两会故事。

In “Studio 93” and similar programs of the FM station in Vientiane, Laos, officials, experts and academics were invited to a special program, to interpret the content of the two sessions. The program “Current Affairs in Chinese”, broadcast by the Albanian FM station, offered the main issues of the day by the “hot words from the two sessions”. CRI’s broadcasting stations with the CAMG media group in Melbourne, Auckland, Bangkok, Incheon, Colomb0, Kathmandu, Ulaanbataar, and other studios, arranged the news programs about the two sessions, organized the coverage mechanisms, and gave an example of the advantages of localization. The studio in Bangkok, through local hosts, in a familiar and effective fashion, gave explanations on [how] the two meetings [work].

老挝万象调频台在《93 播放室》等栏目中开设两会专 栏,邀请老挝官员、专家学者,解读两会相关内容。阿尔巴尼亚调频台在《时事汉语》节目中,开设“两会热 词”,关注当天热点。国际台环球凯歌公司下属的墨尔本、奥克兰、曼谷、仁川、科伦坡、加德满都、乌兰巴托等节目制作室,提前制定中国两会报道方案,建立健 全报道机制,彰显本土化传播优势。泰国曼谷节目制作室通过《泰中一家亲》栏目,由泰国本土主持人向受众解读中国两会,报道贴心,实效显著。

According to a Reuters report published early this month, CAMG Media is one of three foreign joint ventures co-run by China Radio International, or rather, by a 100 percent CRI subsidiary, Guoguang Century Media. Guoguang, according to Reuters, holds sixty percent in EDI media (North America), GBTimes (Finland), and CAMG Media Group (Melbourne), respectively.

Back to the Journalist Association’s seminar article on Wang Hui’s experience account:

2. International coverage localization operations abide by the broadcasting rules. CRI’s EDI Media in North America, GBTimes in Europe, CAMG Media in Australia, Global Iberia in Portugal, and other overseas companies dispatched nine reporters, in their capacities as [Update 20151117: overseas] independent reporters, to the two sessions, where they were positively active. Louise, Andrew and Michael as well as other reporters from CAMG, IBTimes, and EDI Media respectively, asked five questions [each?], to ministers and delegates, concerning property tax, environmental protection, economic growth etc. and achieved broad attention in domestic and foreign media. The nine reporters reported short commentary, blogs, miscellaneous, hot topics on social networks and photo stories [to their respective local or regional stations] and, speaking as borrowed foreign staff, told the Chinese narrative*) well.

2. 国际化新闻运作遵循传播规律。国际台美国环球东方、欧洲环球时代、澳洲环球凯歌、葡萄牙环球伊比利亚等海外公司,派出9名记者以海外独立媒体记者身份 上会,积极活跃在两会会场内外。环球凯歌、环球时代、环球东方上会记者Louise、Andrew、Michael等分别就房产个税、环保治理、经济增长 等在记者会上向各位部长、人大代表提问达5次,受到中外媒体广泛关注。9名上会记者为海外媒体公司开设的网站和落地电台发回短评、记者博客、每日花絮、社 交媒体热议以及图片新闻等报道,实现了借用外籍员工之口和海外媒体平台讲好中国故事。[…]

The Reuters story of early this month isn’t clear about where the idea of “borrowed boats”, i. e. CRI-invested joint ventures abroad, grew first: if the overseas Chinese media entrepreneurs who partner with CRI or CRI themselves got the idea first. “Borrowed boat”, according to Reuters, is how CRI director general Wang Gengnian refers to the overseas outlets concept. Wang Hui, in her work report to the seminar, used the same term in March 2014. And at least one of CRI’s overseas partners, James Su Yantao, described on a media industry convention in 2008 in China how overseas outlets could offer China’s external propaganda advantages.  According to Reuters, EDI Media was founded in the following year, in 2009.
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Note

*) Party and state leader Xi Jinping addressed the issue of telling a good Chinese narrative (讲好中国故事) on a central committee external work meeting on November 29, 2014, i. e. eight months after the China Journalists Association seminar described above. But the term is older; Hu Xijin, chief editor of Huanqiu Shibao, discussed the zhongguo gushi in 2013, and the leadership probably picked the concept from the usual circles of public-diplomacy expertise and academia.

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Related

» Borrowed Boats hit the News, Jichang Lulu, Nov 4, 2015
» Beijing’s covert Radio Network, Reuters, Nov 2, 2015
» Rumours about China Radio International, April 13, 2015

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6 Responses to “Innovative Guidance of Public Opinion: China Radio International’s “Independent Journalists””

  1. I know a journalist from CRI’s Esperanto section quite well.

    One day, after she’d interviewed me in Esperanto about “my vies on life in China” at CRI’s central studios, we went out to eat at a nearby restaurant with another colleague of hers. While we were eating, she suddenly went on a rant about how the Chinese media is controlled, you can’t talk about the real problems even though everyone knows what they are etc etc… I had known her for years, but had no idea she harboured such views.

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  2. Yes, people can live with lies for a long time, but if there’s a moment of reckoning, sometime, it’s kind of intense. Moments of truth, maybe. I’m sometimes wondering how many of the people who protested against the Mubarak regime early in 2011 had any hunches six months earlier that they’d soon be on Tahrir Square.

    Also talked with a fairly sharia-minded Muslim in Syria years ago who still told me how important a strong state – i. e. the Assad regime – was to keep a diverse population stable. I guess I can tell where he was in 2011.

    Like

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