Media newlight on 09 Apr 2008
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.