Wanted in China: foreign correspondents

We all have our ideas about the purpose of journalism — to speak the truth, to act as a check against the powers that be, or, as the late Sri Lankan newspaper editor Mr Lasantha Wickrematunge wrote in his own obituary, to serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel.

Now add this reason to the list: to gain a global voice.

Defying the downward trend of foreign bureau closures around the world, China has decided to pump US$6.6 billion into its state media to place more reporters overseas and improve its image around the world. Among some of the plans on the table are setting up a Al-Jazeera-style, 24-hour, state-owned global TV network, expanding the number of bureaus overseas and placing reporters in almost every country.

Already, Chinese academics are protesting against this move to spread propaganda, calling for a boycott against state television news programmes, and media analysts around the world are saying China’s efforts to improve its international image will not succeed due to its lack of credibility.

The Chinese Communist Party’s plans might have intentions to create an international propaganda machine, and restrain it with censorship and absolute control. But my take is that over time, with the fluidity of the new media and the limits of the CCP’s powerful clutches outside of China, they would eventually realise the futility of their efforts and relax their controls.

When that day comes, with renewed international trust in its media and worldwide interest in seeing through Chinese eyes, this prediction — of journalists from less developed countries gaining a larger role in the West-dominated media scene — would have hit the bull’s eye.

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