Media vs. Beijing 2008: Some thoughts on the Media's Responsibilities

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By all standards, the world protest over the Olympic Torch Relay was a success. The Beijing government is speaking to the representatives of the Dalai, a man they have tried to supress for nearly fifty-five years. In return, they hope, their Olympics will be viewed as the global coming out party that 1.5 billion Chinese hope for.

How should the media respond to the Beijing Olympics? Here are some of my thoughts on the process and the minefields in reporting and chronicling a different culture or
cultural experience.....

The world is counting the days to Beijing. The Chinese government is hoping that their discussions with the Dalai Lama's representatives will be, at best, non news worthy. That will never happen. The world is focused on Tibet, and the fascination with the 14 Dalai Lama is a global phenomenon. If you do not believe that, then just go to ft.com and look up the superb feature done on the Dalai Lama last Sunday, May 4, 2008.

In my favorite song by Steve Forbert, the song master croons, " You can not win if you do not play (Cellophane City, 1977)". This should be the mantra for all in public relations. The Olympic stage is a stage with no borders. Any country who dreams of hosting an Olympics must note that they will be the focal point of all that is wrong with their country, perceived wrong with their country and or perceived wrong with the world.

The Beijing Olympics will be a lesson in global miscommunications. There will be things done, by the worlds' media, that the Chinese government will see as intrusive and just none of the world's business. There will be power outages and system failures that the Western media will find too coincidental to not comment on or protest.

In the end, we have the amazing opportunity to witness a global power emerging, with all of its pride and energy, and all of its warts and issues. This Olympics will be an intrusive process, and I hope and pray that the observers will take it all in and consider the results of our comments and thoughts.

I liken it to Charles Darwin's voyage to the Galapagos. In that environment, Mr. Darwin was able to consider the world in those little islands and the power and mystery of nature. He then went back and did his writing, from his own observations.

The web is a cruel patron. Some services are all about putting out information first, some are about stirring up the kettle first, and some are still considering what a journalist does.

What does a journalist do? A journalist, in this bloggers' mind, is the eyes and ears for his or her readers. They use their judgement, their prejudices, their life experiences to give the reader a view, tainted in their patina, of the world as they see it and also the world as it should be. A journalist should be a critical observer of the world, a journalist who has allowed himself or herself to become a cynical observer should probably go into entertainment news.

The web, with all of its opportunities, has democratized the distribution of information--and it has not all been good. Rupert Murdoch is blamed for saying that with five hundred plus television stations, there are lots of places for poorly done television.

The two books that influenced my decent into media are The Gutenberg Galaxy ( Marshal McLuhan), and Where the Wasteland Ends ( Theodore Rozak). McLuhan would not be surprised by the web and the way things have gone, he would be saddened. It was McLuhan who said " The medium is the message."

Media is perceived differently by cultural experiences. Part of the reason that we are not getting through to the Chinese is that they see our protests, even non violent, civil disobedience as throwing it up in their face. Even non supporters of the government who are Chinese are rallying against the process!

As we get closer to the Beijing Olympics, we need to consider the perception and reality of the situations. The perception of the Chinese of Western media will be negative in some ways, and curious in others. The reality of the situation is that most of us will be in a culture that we have no handle on, and we will need to consider the subtext of information given and information taken.

The protest over the Olympic Torch Relay were a success in that they drew the IOC and the LOC in Beijing to discuss with the Beijing government the lack of goodwill that China would feel over its handling of Tibet and Darfur, among other hot sports. Beijing has made some moves, and now, it is time for the media to watch those moves closely and insure that as the Beijing Olympics come to fruition, that the Chinese government continues its evolution of the relationships with Tibet and Darfur in order to be welcomed to the world party that is the Olympic family.

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