“Trade-offs” Of China Entry

The floodgates are open. The ground rules have softened. But not all the correspondents coming to China ahead of the Olympics can take full advantage. In October last year, the Foreign Desk editor of one media outlet emailed the following memo to his Greater China staff. Biganzi happened upon it and on checking with an employee, has certified the contents as genuine. The name of the organization has been X’d out, but it’s not hard to guess its place of origin.

Subject: China Stories

Importance: High

Sensitivity: Confidential

Hi All,

I’m sure it is no surprise to all of you that XXX’s landing in China comes with several trade-offs. It was sometime ago (January) that we last talked about these issues. I know each of you has your own beliefs and perspective about what we report – but there is a channel position.

So let me take this opportunity to remind all of you (editors, producers and correspondents) of three areas that are “off-limits”.

1) Falungong – everything from stories about protests to showing their mike collar at press conferences

2) Tiananmen – it has been 16 years, there is no need to link news stories to this, and no need to use phrase “massacre/crackdown”

3) Long Hair – we do not run footage of, or sound bites from, [HK political activist] Leung Kwok Hung, especially wearing his Che Guevera T-shirt

These are specific no-nos and to me this makes them easier to avoid.

On a broader and more subjective canvas, we also need to avoid upsound of anti-Beijing chants and showing anti-Beijing banners that might be seen during demonstrations like the one at Taipei airport. This is more difficult. Correspondents and producers need to be alert. We should also avoid going out of our way to do anti-China stories eg worsening pollution, export of prostitution, the adoption business involving Chinese babies, negative stories about China’s Olympic preparation etc.

But herein lies our dilemma, this is a dynamic situation/relationship, and the out-of-bounds markers are constantly moving – both inwards and outwards.

So where there is a doubt, call me and discuss the subject, the visuals etc. There are sometimes currents abroad and domestically that you may not be aware off. So apart from the 3 topics listed above, we will generally decided coverage and treatment on a case-by-case basis.

I hope this helps. If you would like to discuss any of this, please feel free to call me.

Appreciate if this email is not forwarded to anyone.