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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Olympic Propaganda Plan a Loser

June 12, 2008

James Rose
The Standard (Hong Kong)
June 10, 2008

CCTV, China's state TV station to the world, has been running a long
and fairly cheesy documentary lately on those who ran with the
Olympic flame. By speaking to those who participated, Beijing is
wringing all the PR it can get from the whole Olympic family thing.

At the same time, Xinhua News Agency is extolling the harmonious
virtues of nations coming together to hold a flame and trot along the
street with it. It's what you might call front- foot PR - whereby the
positives are obsessively publicized while the negatives are sat on -
but it won't work.

It's the wrong approach.

For one thing, you have to wonder how many people will be taken in by
language like "the torch relay makes some foreigners touch the
profound culture of China, this ancient country with 5,000 history
[sic]," as in a recent Xinhua piece. It reads like it's taken
verbatim from a memo from the propaganda department, complete with
dodgy translation.

For another thing, how many of those flag-runners will be aware they
are part of the China PR machinery? By babbling on about peace and
friendship, do they understand they are adding polish to the Chinese
communist regime, which, by historical record, is responsible for
some truly hideous acts? And, if they are aware, where does that
leave their peace and friendship?

The extent to which the Beijing Olympics have relied so heavily on PR
spin and manipulation of ritualized events to justify the awarding of
the Games is interesting. It's hard to think of another example,
where a country has had to work so hard to convince the world that
the International Olympic Committee was right.

And so, these PR games have an air of understandable desperation about them.

As these PR mind games were being played by China's state-friendly
media, the country's Olympic organizing committee rather more quietly
issued its rule book for foreigners attending the Games. The 57-point
Q&A format booklet, so far issued only in Chinese, offers the means
by which China will look to rein in we noisy, philistine foreigners.
It doesn't look so friendly.

Among the rules are a ban on "insulting slogans and banners and other
articles" and, on the "display of any religious, political or ethnic
slogans, banners and other items." It's easy to think of examples
where such rules will be quickly undermined - an athlete making a
sign of the cross? A fan making a peace sign? A Tibet flag?

Or, what about other flags that carry certain loaded symbols: the
English St George's flag say, or Saudi Arabia's national flag, which
suggests "there is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of
God," both of which may be considered to fall within China's broad regulations?

These may be redundant questions, but the point is that China is
hardly rolling out the welcome mat, despite its exhortations to the
contrary. It may well be that some of those hapless folk appearing on
CCTV themselves will feel the full force of the state security
services should they step out of line in Beijing this August.

This is the crux of Beijing's poor approach to Olympic
communications. It makes no sense to present the good and the not so
good as if they are separate strands. International media is now too
sophisticated, too widespread and, frankly, too desperate for
content, to miss the opportunity to pick holes in Beijing's
holier-than-though attempts on the Games.

The media and its consumers will draw the threads together. So, it
makes sense in this context to construct a balanced and honest public
relations strategy. That is to say that denying the realities of
modern China will only enhance the power of the spotlight when it is
cast them. There are few if any shadows beyond the reach of today's
24/7 media machine.

Taking a more sincere stand would likely generate far more support
than is being received, as it would open debate and suggest China is
prepared at least to speak to its problems.

James Rose is editor of www.corporategovernance-asia.com
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