Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Read an interesting piece in the China Daily. It's about the burial of Zhao Ziyang. One sentence in the brief bio caught my attention: "In the political turbulence which took place in the late spring and early summer of 1989, Comrade Zhao committed serious mistakes." What kind of statement is that? Whatever that is, it certainly is not journalism. That line (and perhaps the whole article) was clearly dictated from on high. And it bears the label of the Xinhua News Agency.

It takes a little time to get a handle on just how news agencies operate in China. Sometimes people from the West assume that media outlets in China are always and only paroting what the party has told them to say. But that is a little too simplistic. On a given day, the China Daily carries articles from around China, written by Daily reporters, as well as several articles from foreign wire services. For some reason, the Daily does not identify the specific wire service (except for the Bloomberg financial reports), but these stories are direct wire feeds from services around the world. The result of this is that the China Daily is one of the simplest, and most informative daily newspapers I have ever read. It is very, very convenient. I get major headlines for news relating to China and other parts of the world, but also feature articles covering everything from modern explorers roaming the ancient catacombs of Paris (not Rome), to a group of villagers in the countryside of China working together to restore an old bridge after a storm. And the small town stuff: a guy breaks off his marriage engagement when he discovers that his fiance has a mole on her shoulder, because his mother has told him all his life that moles are bad luck. Or the one about the bored husband in Shenyang who signed up with a dating service and was matched, by computer, with his wife, who, unbeknown to her husband, was up to the same mischief.

In contrast to this, many American newspapers have become all but unusable, because they are so loaded with innocuous stuff which is just not newsworthy. Information overload. During the last years I lived in America, I had pretty much quit reading newspapers. I found them boring, junky, and, as I said, largely unusable. There is one exception. I have, for some years, consistantly read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. It carries a variety of pieces on contemporary issues, and I can get quite a bit of information in a small amount of time. But it is the exception that proves the rule. I really don't like American newspapers.

So I am left with a paradox, and such abound in China. For example, during the Cold War, many assumed that reporters for the People Daily (the official Communist Party paper) were just mindless robots spitting out the Party line. But during Tiananmen, several hundred reporters from the People Daily carried a banner which said, "Don't believe what we write. We print lies." Things have changed since then, but the bottom line is still the party. However, it is very important to remember that journalists are journalists. They will exercise as much freedom as they are allowed, and the result, in today's China, is that, in spite of restrictions which occasionally result in articles such as the one I read today, those same restrictions effect a much more informative and newsy paper than one can find in an average American city.

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