Chinese Openness

If you liked the International Criminal Court, or the various incarnations of UN Human Rights Shindigs, you’ll love this one.

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, in an article that doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention, Li Congjun, President of Xinhua, proposes an international code of media conduct, to be enforced by UNESCO (“Towards a New World Media Order“).

What disputes?  Who knows?  In the first six paragraphs, Li alludes to exactly zero disputes or complaints, gives no examples, and basically leaves the reader wonder what the hell he’s talking about.

Eventually, he complains about the media flow being from developed to developing countries, about developing countries not having their turn at the mike.

Of course, China has done for the media what it’s done for other consumer goods – turn it into a one-way outbound flow.  Li wants this to go global, where if you’re lucky, he’ll allow you occasional Congjungal visits with your freedom of the press.

He proposes Four Principles:

Fair: This requires that media organizations from all countries should have the right to participate in international communication on equal terms. Those media organizations in turn should provide comprehensive, objective, fair, balanced and accurate coverage to minimize discrimination and prejudice.

All-win: It is advisable to create conditions allowing media organizations from different countries to share the fruits of development in information and communication industries, to play an active role in international mass communication, and to reverse the unbalanced situation where the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker.

Inclusion: To maintain the world’s diversity, media must respect the unique cultures, customs, beliefs and values of different nations; strive to dispel suspicions and remove barriers between different cultures and civilizations; enhance dialogue and communication; and seek common ground while putting aside differences.

Responsibility: Media organizations should not only ensure openness and transparency to promote the building of an open society, but also keep to rational and constructive rules so as to turn mass communication into an active force for promoting social progress.

“F-A-I-R,” get it?  In the US, these sorts of things usually last about as long as it takes to print up the posters, but the Chinese government has a history taking this sort of crap seriously, as a way of getting everyone on the same page, which you would think would be easy, because it’s the only one being published.

You’ll notice what’s missing in that list: “Free.”  Nothing would be easier than to just point out that Xinhua asking for openness and transparency is like Mahmoud Abbas asking for equal access to semtex and leave it at that.  But the Chinese are playing a deeper game.

The Chinese are big on numbering lists of principles and ideas.  Over the years, these have brought us the wildly successful Five Year Plans, The Four Olds, the Three Kingdoms, The Two Meetings, and the One News Agency to Rule Them All, Xinhua.

Nominally, this is about the developed world dominating the world media, and giving a voice to the third world.  Well, silly, the developed world is where all the action is, it’s where all the decision-makers are, and it’s the dog to the developing world’s tail.  There’s no reason that’s set in stone, and the best way for the 3rd world to get the 1st worlders to read about them is to get on with developing their economies so there’s something to read about.  In the case of the US, if the Democrat plan of putting the budget and economy on cruise control Thelma & Louise-style continues much longer, we won’t get much choice in the matter.

That’s what happened to New York.  In the 1930s, every radio show you heard originated in New York.  Why?  Because that’s where everything important happened. The businesses were there, the markets were there, it was our biggest city, our biggest port, center of what passed for the US art world back then. Hollywood made movies, but New York made news.

Then, as New York declined, the radio and television and production headed west, and lo and behold, we discovered that we had great, Pulitzer-worthy newspapers in St. Louis and Detroit and Denver and Dallas and everywhere in-between.

It happened not because some government bureau decided that it was important to hear voices from LA, or that New Yorkers needed to listen to Louisiana’s Official Government Radio for three hours a day.  It happened because in a free society, places have the opportunity to develop and become newsworthy, and a free press is not only complementary to that, it’s part of the process of getting to prosperity, of getting to matter enough to be read about.

I already check the India Times a few times a week, and if there were something trustworthy coming out of China, I might read that on occasion, too.  As it is, I have to rely on the Journal and the western sources doing business there, and even then, I have to put on filters.  (It makes it doubly-difficult because I have to decode twice – once for the censors and again for the cultural nuances I have no idea even exist.)

What’s really going on here is part of a larger Chinese strategy on several fronts.  At 30,000 feet, China is trying to take on the Soviets’ old role of Champion of the Third World.  As part of that, this proposal to have the UN mediate media disputes dovetails nicely with the Islamic Conference’s goal of extending slander laws to their religion. And if the Chinese can actually harness the UN to their purposes of cutting short honest reporting, so much the better.

It’s an incremental process, and if the US tells the UN to take a hike, there will be others, Europeans, or CNN, who are used to the idea of government media, who won’t.  Then, when ABC or CBS or Fox or Michael Yon or Pajamas Media wants access someplace, they’ll have to play by the rules, or Americans will be able to get their news from sources who will, while the reprobates get put on the slow boat to China.  As Mark Steyn has pointed out, there’s no way in an integrated world that the US can remain an isolated bastion of freedom all by itself, alone.

The Chinese Commnunists are also trying to protect themselves.  Ever-paranoid, having seen what a minimally free media has done to the Middle East, they’re not going to let that happen to them, no sir. They’re determined to go on the offensive against it, rather than stay on the defensive over their own internal censorship and Great Firewall.  The Chinese probably don’t expect any immediate action, but they’re planting seeds here.  They’re making friends, putting things on the agenda for the long term, and at some point, they’ll hint that the price of the next loan rollover is some minimal action on this idea.

Remarkably, our somnolescent press corps didn’t even ask about this at today’s State Department Press briefing.  Maybe they’ll get around to it, but you can imagine (and I won’t print) what the reaction of Mike Royko of Jimmy Breslin or even Don Marquis would have been.  And without such a short, sharp reaction – soon – our thin-skinned Chicago-pol of a President just might starting turning this idea over in his head, too.

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