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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 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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