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Media newlight on 30 Sep 2009

Dan Chung’s Another Night in Beijing

News photographer Dan Chung used his new Canon Eos 7D to shoot this video Another Night in Beijing under low light. The place is Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷). His blog DSRL News Shooter has some fascinating topics and stunning photos and videos, contributed by news photographers working in China.

Media &TV newlight on 28 Jun 2009

Very broad sense of traffic

I noted last month that the BBC TV programme Click used a video sequence taken out of the documentary Britain from Above. The sequence, as explained in Britain from Above, was made for the documentary to illustrate the taxi traffic in London over 24 hours. While being used in Click, however, it implied another kind of traffic, internet traffic. I wrote to Click through their online form but got no reply.

I was a little suprised to see it appeared again in last week’s Click, this time when commenting on Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report. It looks neat and convincing for that purpse, but I don’t think it’s right for Click to do this.

2009-06-27 Click 20090620

Media newlight on 03 May 2009

Traffic and … traffic

I could be wrong here, but isn’t the sequence used in BBC’s latest episode of Click, to illustrate the internet traffice in London, the same sequence used in Andrew Marr’s Britain from Above, to illustrate the taxis traffic in London?

I love the brilliant Britain from Above series and was very much impressed by the taxis traffice sequence which used the GPS information of 380 London taxis over a single day to generate the animation. I’m also a fan of Click. It’s a bit odd to see the same sequence is used to show the traffic of two different kind though.

Click, 2nd May 2009

BBC Click 2 May 2009

Britain from Above

Britain from Above

Media newlight on 08 Nov 2008

Coloured mood

British media, like the rest of the world, are fascinated by the US presidential election. This is largely because of the effect a new US administration could have on the world, and the chrisma of Barack Obama, however from what I can see, British people seem to have an emotional closeness towards the election. The cultural and historical ties can’t be underestimated. Sometimes it became sentimental. This is best reflected on last Thursday’s G2 cover. Obama had just won the election. Red colour fills the whole front cover, with a white, small word at the centre, “Wow!” Inside are stories of how people around the States reacted to the victory of Barack Obama. This design is obviously referring to a 2004 G2 cover. After the re-election of George W. Bush, G2 painted it cover in full black, with a small word “Oh, God.” at the centre. Different time, different color, different mood.

Media newlight on 16 Aug 2008

Open your eyes

When I first saw the Spanish basket ball team’s slit-eyed photo, I was baffled. I couldn’t work out what the gesture was about. Slit-eyed people? Do they mean us?

This may somewhat explain the muted response from China. People are largely puzzled by the gesture. When reporting the story, the editor of the Beijing News even felt necessary to add some explanation of what the gesture means, “a common gesture can be suspected as racist, which is not often seen in Asia.”

It may also have something to do with the timing. Chinese media only caught the story after it was raised during the daily news conference during the Olympics. Search “Spanish basket ball team” in Chinese and you get dozens of results all saying “Spanish basket ball team apologized for the guilian (making a face) photo”. One blogger commented that if only the story was broken 24 hours earlier, before the two countries’ basket ball team met, then the Chinese team might be more motivated to resist Spain’s comeback.

The slit-eyed gesture may take some explanation for Chinese to understand, but that does not say we don’t make fun of other people’s look. Cantonese use ‘gwailo‘ (ghost man) to call foreign people because their deep eye sock and funny coloured hairs. You can say it’s disrespectful but over the time it has become neutral, even affectionate. I guess Spanish could use the similar line to defend that photo. Indeed a Chinese blogger living in Barcelona felt moved to defend the locals. “A friendly gesture between close friends to be interpreted as racist. No wonder Spanish people are angry.”

Something deemed to be friendly may not be felt the same way when seeing the light. I guess like gwailo, the slit-eyed gesture was originated at a time of ignorance, when mocking people’s racial characteristics was more acceptable. Whether those participated in this public display thought the time hadn’t changed or the viewers would think the same I have on idea. The advertiser who insisted to take this photo may think it was harmless fun to mock Chinese in such a way when they only thought the Spanish-speaking population as the targeted audiences. But in a globalised world, this is insensitive to say the least.

I frowned on the photo when I thought I finally worked it out, some of my fellow countrymen would shrug it off, but I can understand others may be furious and hurt. Spanish media seem to think all the fuss about this is storm in a tea cup, a misunderstanding of Spanish culture, or even a witch hunt. However, whether stereotyping is playful or hurtful can only be decided by those are being targeted. In this instance, the Spainish may well do their image some good by opening their eyes.

Media newlight on 13 Aug 2008

Price of perfection

The Olympics has truly become showbiz when the headline is an adoring young girl lip-synced a song by another young girl at the opening ceremony. In the director’s mind, the girl with the best voice has to have the cutest complexion as well. The more baffling part is the director of music of the opening ceremony, Chen Qigang, only revealed this fact as one of the “behind the scene” stories when being interviewed on the radio, as if giving away some “making of” extra like those coming with a film’s DVD releases.

Let’s not forget the opening ceremony was directed by Zhang Yimou, a film director renowned for his pursuit of visual perfection, which is not only about striking prime colours and stuning special effects, but also, perhaps more importantly, the perfect face expression and image composition. Zhang Yimou obviously took the latest challenge of directing the opening ceremony performance as if he was shooting a film watched by 4 billions people simultaneously. Image perfect is the holly grail while conventions and rules were something could be bent and ignored.

And lip-syncing is not so unusual in Chinese cinema. In early Chinese cinema, there were those actresses, like “Gold throat” Zhou Xuan who could act as well as sing, but Chinese audiences largely accepted, even expected, the song they heard was not sung by the leading actor and actress, but someone with better voice. During 1950s and 60s when sing-song movies and musicals were hugely popular in Hong Kong’s mandarin film scene, there was a mixture of popular actresses who did and who did not sing. The fact that an actress could not sing wouldn’t dent fan’s affection, only advanced the career of the singer behind the screen. This tradition continued to 1980s Chinese cinema. When Joan Chen, still a budding young actress, played a soprano and sang “I Love You China” in the film Loyalty (1979) (《海外赤子》), of course everyone understood that was a song by a famous soprano Luo Tianchan.

This may somewhat explain the relaxed attitude Chen Qigang displayed. He certainly didn’t expect such a clever act would be ridiculed, mostly by Chinese internet users. What he seemed not to realize, was that audiences enjoy spectacle and perfection in sports, yes, but a performance replying on unfairly borrowed ability isn’t the message the Olympic Games want to sent out.

Media newlight on 09 Apr 2008

Flame it up

Joanna Lumley complained on Channel 4 News that her peaceful protest on the day of Olympic torch relay in London was almost ignored by the media. On the other side, many Chinese students voiced the frustration of that their show of support, a pro-Olympic torch demonstration if you like, despite turning up in large numbers, was barely mentioned by BBC News 24, who broadcasted most part of the torch reply. It is understandable that stunts, especially violent stunts, always attract more media attention, however I do wonder whether those they tried to grab the torch, or throw themselves to the torch bearers, or ambush the torch with a fire extinguisher, were risking losing their case. Not only they overshadowed their colleagues who insisted on peaceful demonstration, some action, like the one happened in Paris during which several men charged from all directions, wave after wave, towards a disabled torch bearer sitting on a wheel chair in order to grab her torch (well before the flame lit up), did not do any good PR for the movement’s ‘non-violent’ image.

One thing clear is that if the protesters wanted to ‘embarrass China into submission’, they are most likely to find their efforts totally counter-productive. Not only this forces China into a stand off confrontation, but also galvanises Chinese people into showing more support of the Beijing Olympics. Chinese students in Edinburgh are organising a show of support demonstration at city centre this Saturday, followed by a separate protest against the misreporting outside BBC headquarter in London on 19 April. Some may believe Chinese students are either blinded by Communist Party’s nationalistic propaganda or totally insulated from the outside world. However what it really shows is that, just like their counterparts in Britain, Chinese students are usually not into politics, but will rise up to express their views when the issue they really care about comes by.

It is interesting to compare the live broadcast of torch relay in London and San Francisco. The NBC presenters were upbeat and giggling, often indicating the torch relay is a fun thing (even the torch run, torch drive and the cat-and-mouse “where is the torch” thing is fun), positive for San Francisco’s image, including the display of rivalry between anti-China and pro-Olympics demonstrators. BBC News 24′s broadcast, fronted by Chris Eakin, however, gave the overall impression that the torch relay in London, and in San Francisco, were distasteful embarrassment or miserable disasters. I’m not suggesting any conspiracies. Perhaps Americans are not so ashamed of highly-visible, security-minded operation, or just the weather is better there. A serious point, though, is that if violent disruption of Olympic torch relay becomes a fair game to any protest groups, or even turns into a competition of who can, literally, grab the biggest prize, if attempts of grabbing the torch, extinguishing the torch, or worse physical violating the torch bearers can be justified if you happen to like the course, as some British columnists suggest, then the biggest victim will be the Olympic movement.

Those who use violence to disrupt the torch relay may enjoy the maximum media attention they are seeking for, but the consequences are going to be suffered by all of us who rather enjoy Olympic Games and all the festival atmosphere it brings, whatever one’s views on Tibet are.

Media newlight on 04 Apr 2008

Channel 4 News: Misinformation only hinders good judgement

During last night’s Channel 4 News, Francesca Martinez declared on air that she had withdrawn from Olympic torch relay in London. Martinez of course should do what satisfies her conscience. Her judgement, however, was not helped by the imbalanced reporting and sometimes misinformation from some news organisations. During the introduction of the very same interview in which Martinez made her declaration, Channel 4 News used the footage of Tibetan protesters held and dragged by police, supposedly to demonstrate the brutality of Chinese authority. Except the protest happened in the neigbouring country Napal, not in Tibet. Why Channel 4 News still used the same video footage while their China correspondent Lindsey Hilsum had already reported several days ago the backlash among Chinese people towards western media’s misreporting including the misuse of this very video footage I do not know. I certainly expect more balanced reporting and accuracy from a respected news programme like Channel 4 News.

Media newlight on 26 Mar 2008

Tibet and beyond

Among many commentaries about what happened in Tibet and what would happen at Beijing Olympics, some groups advocate either boycotting Beijing Olympics altogether or at least the opening ceremony, or encouraging athletics openly demonstrate during the Games, wearing a Free Tibet t-shirt while competing for example. To see what kind of reaction their proposed action may get, one can do worse than checking the response from the eighty thousand or so Chinese students in the UK. Although most of them won’t hesitate to criticise Chinese government’s handling of events, such as a blind ban of the foreign media, many believe the western media are equally biased and untrustworthy. On the overseas Chinese discussion boards, there have been heated debate, mainly among overseas Chinese students themselves, about whether Tibetan are treated well enough, and how strained the relationship between Tibetan and Han-Chinese is, however most of the participants see Tibet as an integral part of China, many also accuse western media as being one-sided or even fabricating in reporting the violence in Tibet. A seven minute video posted onto YouTube (has been viewed near two million times) reflects the feeling shared by many Chinese students.

A new website, anti-cnn.com, has been set up to expose the western media outlets like CNN, German N-TV, as well as BBC and The Times of “manipulation of evidence” and “biased reporting”. It looks many quite a few western news organisations, in the immediate aftermath of Lhasa riot, used the pictures of Indian and Nepalese police taking away demonstrators in their reports as the evidence of “Chinese army used brutal force to crack down protest”. One screenshot of BBC News website shows a picture of Chinese soldiers wearing medic arm band standing behind an ambulance with the caption of “a heavy military presence in Lhasa”. A YouTube video then shows a slideshow compilation of the materials.

In the UK, an open letter to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been circulated among Chinese students in which the author points out the biased reporting by western media and asks Gordon Brown “not to meet Dalai Lama” when he comes to the UK in May. After the disruption of Olympic flame-lighting ceremony and torch relay in Greece, there are also calls on the message boards to “support the Olympic torch” when it tours through the UK.

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Media newlight on 10 Sep 2007

Following McCanns

On Sunday there were repeated scenes on the television news of the McCann family returning from Portugal to the UK. There were photographers on the back of motorcycles following their car, more photographers waiting at the gate of the airport, long lens images of an empty runway with the caption ‘Live from Midland Airport’. Those pictures somehow reminded me the footages of police chasing O.J. Simpson. When the photographers rushed to the car windows to take more pictures as if it is a prison car leaving the court, I had a terrible feeling. Didn’t they realise there were two children sitting at the back seat? At that moment, those photographers did look like a pack of ‘feral beasts’, who would tear apart anything on their way.

On Manday morning Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Five Live asked the audiences to debate about the media coverage of the missing of Madeleine McCann. It is a timely debate, however, it is so easy to slip into a ‘which side are you on’ kind of arguement that is purely based on speculations. The debate was stopped when more than half of the responding audiences said they didn’t want to hear it anymore. It is curious BBC would stop a programme or a debate because some audiences don’t like it based on moral ground. I still believe it’s a worthy topic, perhaps only on the broader issue of the media behaviour in these cases, or perhaps now it’s not the best time. What I don’t want to see, is the BBC, like other media, acted like paparazzi following a celebrity. It’s ture McCann family, with enough resources, have used the media to publicise their search of the missing child (wouldn’t you do anything you can at such situation?), but that doesn’t mean their privacy should not be respected.

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