Sunday, February 13, 2005

Chinese Meeja

Even though the Chinese economy is slowly becoming free and open, the Chinese media is still firmly in the grasp of its Beijing masters.

Flick on a TV anywhere in China, and you'll no doubt be confronted by the omnipresent CCTV logo winking at you from the top left hand corner. It's a strange but appropriate coincidence that those four letters stand for 'Closed Circuit TV' in the rest of the world, but here they represent the 'Chinese Central TV'. Either way, you can't help but feel paranoid. CCTV is TV is China. There are 9 - yep, count 'em - NINE CCTV channels, each of them looking to the casual observer to be as turgid and boring as the next. The only one I've given any time to - CCTV 9 (aka, CCTV International, aka CCTV in English) is an unconvincing mix of propaganda-as-news, Chinese arts and culture, and painfully inoffensive nature documentaries.

One long-termer in China explained that CCTV International is watched by almost no one - the Chinese-speaking locals have got eight boring CCTV channels of their own to chose from, and the English-speakers know that CCTV International is mushroom television (being kept in the dark, and fed shit). Presumably the Chinese government keeps the service operating as a means of helping learners of English, and also as a fig leaf cover for continuing to make 'real' international news unavailable ('Why do you want CNN or BBC?? You have CCTV International right here...').

When you get bored of watching CCTV - it doesn't take long - you can always pick up one of the many fine newspapers which are available at newsstands far and wide through the great yellow land. Prominant amongst them are the People's Daily, and the Beijing Youth Daily (I think the meaning of that one was kinda Lost in Translation), which offer a collection of dull human interest stories, brown-nosing editorials, and colourful photos of Central Party officials. Whilst as a source of news, the newspapers fail abysmally to live up to their name, they are an interesting little insite into the thinking of the regime in Beijing.

Many of the lines taken by the newspapers are highly scripted and dictated by the central party. A shift in the paper's attitude toward a particular issue, place, person, etc, is usually a sign of a shift further up the national hierarchy. It's an archaic way of communicating, but one that has served the regime well over time. It also is a great way to boost circulation - you're average Beijinger might not read it, but you can be sure that every Embassy and intelligence-gathering service around the world are poring over copies.

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