Liang Wendao: Reporters Vs. Policemen

Liang Wendao, a well-known host of Phoenix TV, a Chinese broadcasting company based in Hong Kong, commented on the recent clash between members of the press and police during Olympics ticket sales on his blog. Translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan.

Many Chinese are confused over why people overseas often pick on our faults when the nation is becoming strong, its economy is increasingly prosperous, and people’s lives are being improved day by day. Why do the overseas media vilify us? Perhaps we could look at the problem this way: it is caused by the divergence of two images of China: One is a rising superpower, which is in the collective consciousness of the Chinese people; the other is a dinosaur with tons of problems, which is in the minds of people overseas.

We often say that when foreigners get to know China better, their prejudices would disappear. We all think that frequent contact and adequate information would help to reduce the divergence between the
two different perceptions. If this assumption stands, the Chinese people should also know better about what is happening to ourselves, so we could have a reasonable image of the country and won’t feel too good about ourselves.

A number of mainland newspapers published a tabloid news story on July 26, which said that a reporter from the South China Morning Post disobeyed Beijing police and even injured a policeman by kicking him. If they read only this news story on the incident, Chinese readers might think that overseas media were creating problems in China again, and that the Hong Kong reporters were so aggressive as to make trouble out of nothing at a celebratory occasion.

However, the media in Hong Kong told a completely different story about this incident. They published pictures showing that a huge crowd of Beijing residents who had been queuing for days to buy Olympic tickets went out of control. A single long line broke into three ones. The crowd as well as the police at the spot were restless from the scorching heat.

Various Hong Kong reporters took pictures of the scene with their cameras. The police tried to stop them. They intended to either confiscate their videotapes or detain them. They even beat the reporters.

We all know that the State Council had put forth a new regulation long ago to give more freedom to overseas press…We all applauded this regulation as a sign of China’s opening up, and its first step towards hosting a civilized Olympic Games. However, as we saw clearly on TV, the policemen in China’s capital kept questioning the Hong Kong reporters over whether they had permission. They did not to listen to the reporters who responded to them with the State Council regulation. The police also tried to block the photographers’ lenses with their hands. The kicking of a policeman by a South China Morning Post reporter took place at this chaotic moment.

Therefore, through the various indignant coverage on the incident by Hong Kong media, the image of Chinese bad at queuing and of Chinese police disrespecting press freedom was spread out to the world once again. But what people in China read about in their papers was that a Hong Kong reporter attacked a Beijing policeman for no good reason. The divergence of the two images gets widened with one such small incident after another.

Can the Beijing Olympics help to present the new image of contemporary China to the world? Perhaps. Take the Beijing police who rudely treated Hong Kong reporters as an example. I don’t deny that reporters could be blamed for going over a media zone designated by the police. However, was it necessary for the police to dispel the reporters even after they quit to the media zone? We might regard it as a new image of China that is worth celebrating — at least the police had realized that it was not a good image to be seen by the world that people in China didn’t wait in queues to buy tickets. The fact that the police asked reporters to stop taking pictures and forced them to hand over their videotapes showed that they were aware of the power of media supervision. How would the police have been afraid of reporters if we were still in the era when all media were the mouthpiece of the government?

Hong Kong reporters intuitively responded to the questioning of the police with the new State Council regulation on the rights of overseas press. They forgot how loyal these policemen were. To the policemen, the orders from above were everything. If they receive a new order (let’s suppose that the order is to maintain social order at any cost), they could ignore all previous laws and regulations to carry it out. In China, the lines between laws, regulations, and orders are blurred. You could regard all of them as orders of different types. A new order always overrides all previous orders, no matter if it is an administrative regulation, a national policy, or a codified body of law.

The police who beat the the reporters might have received orders to treat reporters politely. They might also know that overseas media need not get permission from the government to conduct interviews, and that it is important for them to fulfill their duties in a civilized way. However, since they’ve got the latest and the highest order, they would do their utmost to carry it out and to maintain
peace and order during the Olympics.

What was most interesting during the incident was what a Beijing resident said in an interview with a Hong Kong reporter at the chaotic scene, “We are in good order. There is no problem. Please don’t ask me about it any more.” We could see clearly from recorded pictures that the scene in the background was chaotic and people were pushing each other at the time he spoke. Yes, we were in peace, in harmony and in good order, although the crowd was a mess and a policeman pinched a
reporter on the neck.

(For more on this story, see these posts from ESWN.)


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