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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Tibet in China’s Eyes: The Power of Words

with 2 comments

I’ve been discussing my recent angst about working as a tool to the Chinese propaganda machine, even from an independently owned media company.  While I don’t feel the mainstream U.S. media is any less victimized by its alignment with government information sources, in our country we have the right to choose to hear our own perverted news the way we like it.  It is the distinct lack of choice here, the standard of un-informing the masses in order to maintain control, that troubles me.   It’s fascinating, really, to consider both countries’ ability to manipulate news with a dichotomy between those who choose to be misinformed and those who are systematically uninformed.  How does each strategy affect behavior and beliefs?

To exemplify what I mean by the power of words, how small changes in context and phrasing can lead to drastic changes in meaning, I have added below one piece of news I was asked to edit tonight.  In this anchor on camera reader, as is common, we cover the Chinese (government) reaction to a news event without first airing the initial impetus.  To start, here is the first draft sent by the news-gatherer to the producer:

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said today that the resolution recently proposed by the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tibet is with “ulterior motives.”  She says the proposal neither condemned the mobs who conducted violence in Lhasa nor did it denounce the Dalai Clique who organized the crimes, it instead blamed the Chinese government and Chinese people.  The resolution calls on the Chinese government to end its “crackdown” in Tibet and to enter into a substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

Here is the first edited version after the producer cleaned it up:

The resolution recently proposed by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tibet has “ulterior motives.”  Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu made the comment today at a press conference, where she noted the resolution neither condemned the mobs who conducted violence in Lhasa nor did it denounce the Dalai clique who organized the crimes, it instead blamed the Chinese government and Chinese people.  Jiang urged the US Congresswoman to respect the truth, give up preconceptions, and recognize the true nature of the Dalai Clique.

Now, this is pretty striking in its own right.  But I never saw these changes.  I only receive the first-edit version, and thus I was unaware of the first draft.  It was now my turn, and I went through trying to balance the news as much as possible, very much a bend-don’t-break tactic for me.  I know if I bend it too much, the producer will take note of it and strike my changes, criticizing me for changing the story.  This was my polished draft:

The resolution on Tibet recently proposed by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has “ulterior motives,” according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu. Jiang made the comment today at a press conference, where she also noted the resolution neither condemned mob violence in Lhasa nor denounced the Dalai clique whom China believes organized the crimes. Pelosi’s resolution criticized the Chinese government’s handling of the unrest and called for a dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. Jiang urged the US Congresswoman to respect the truth, give up preconceptions, and recognize the true nature of the Dalai Clique.

Oops.  Too much.  I had thought by leaving in that poisonous final sentence I would appease the producers, who to their credit are only trying to protect their ass and not have their bosses– let alone some government press official– burn them at the stake.  Remember, this is their job, their livelihood, and they have been doing this in China for years.  Like it or not, they know how to play the game; even if that means sitting on the sidelines.  In this case, I was explained that the news was largely a direct quote from Jiang Yu reported by China’s state-controlled Xinhua news agency.  I was taught in college never to use direct quotes in broadcast news because the reader cannot distinguish between speaker and the broadcaster opinion.  Always paraphrase.  If you must, attribute clearly.  For instance, never leave a quote like “ulterior motives” at the end of the sentence, because an anchor always pauses to catch a short breath between lines, thus fracturing the logic.  If you MUST, attribute clearly.  For instance, you should write “Jiang said the resolution quote blamed China and Chinese citizens unquote.”  I tried in vain to subtly pass this tip on to the producer.  I failed.  And though I usually have final say, producers always trump my position.  This is the final draft that went to air:

The resolution on Tibet recently proposed by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has “ulterior motives.”  Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu made the comment today at a press conference, where she also said the resolution neither condemned the mobs who conducted violence in Lhasa nor did it denounce the Dalai clique who organized the crimes.  She noted, instead, it blamed the Chinese government and Chinese people. Jiang urged the US Congresswoman to respect the truth, give up preconceptions, and recognize the true nature of the Dalai Clique.

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Written by Miles

April 7, 2008 at 5:08 pm

2 Responses

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  1. wow. my head hurts now.

    Matt

    April 8, 2008 at 6:13 pm

  2. […] His article is quick, but shows what lengths are gone through to paint the best possible picture for China without exactly lying.  No wonder why we do so much business with China, no wonder why we have a huge trade deficit with them. […]


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