China gives Barbados journalists “Hard-to-resist treats, free trips, all expenses paid… and flattery”

To The Nation, Barbados Advocate, Barbados Today: How much of your content is paid for by China?

As part of its efforts to influence global opinion about China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) gives hard-to-resist treats to media workers in the Caribbean. In exchange for its generosity, the CCP hopes to get coverage of China in line with its propaganda.

“Interviews with participants indicate that success has been mixed, but that certain basic propaganda goals were achieved.”

Since around 2007, journalists and editors from these small island nations are fêted with official tours to China where they are greeted and banqueted, given tours and lectures, and patiently educated on the “peculiar characteristics” of modern China’s political and social system.

They are taught that China is a multi-party state, not a one-party dictatorship; that the current regime is authentically Chinese, rather than a foreign import; that the domestic media are very patriotic, not that they are state-controlled; and that the CCP is doing its utmost to distribute the country’s wealth in the most equitable fashion, not that it is rife with corruption.

Some of these themes have been key to the CCP’s foreign propaganda work since the 1980s. The Party has attempted to de-emphasize politics, and present China as a democratic country with a proper legal system, according to Anne-Marie Brady, author of Marketing Dictatorship.

Vernon Davidson is chief editor of Jamaica Observer, one of the largest newspapers on that island. He went to China in the latest such trip, titled the “Professional Program for Journalists from Caribbean Countries,” running from Oct. 13–26, 2010. The Epoch Times interviewed and surveyed participants.

“I was of the impression that there was one party and that elections were just a sham,” Mr. Davidson said. But “they gave us the name of the other party and we got a chance to see on television the National People’s Congress in action, and you saw all the political representatives coming in,” he said, referring to the rubber-stamp legislature that provides an appearance of supervision over one-party rule.

Davidson is not an easy man to fool (he does not trust Wikipedia, for example: “Anyone can edit that website—did you know that?”), but he found the evidence for a multi-party system in front of his eyes irresistible.

“I am now learning that while the government takes a strong hand in running the country, they do embrace other viewpoints from the other political parties.” “I have no reason to doubt them,” he said. “I think it’s a good system.”

A former broadcast journalist in Grenada went on an all expenses paid trip to China; she spoke on condition of anonymity because she now works for the Grenadian government. As part of the agreement she had to write a report and send it to the local Chinese Embassy.

She also reconciled herself to China’s political dictatorship in the course of the trip. “My principle was that if it was that your culture, then so be it. But it’s not my personal view, it’s not nice. To me, freedom is the best, but if that’s the way of life and the people are used to it by now … then so be it.”

Going Out

For several years the Party’s official media agencies have been on a mission to “go out” and herald the good news, in dozens of languages, of China’s “peaceful rise” (later changed to the less ominous “peaceful development.”)

Alongside spending billions on its own media, an extensive effort is underway to sway the views of journalists at other media agencies—particularly those in smaller or poorer countries.

It is difficult to gain anything but ad-hoc information on the frequency of the trips and who participates in them, but online accounts suggest there have been several each year for the last three years for the Caribbean alone.

The idea of winning over journalists has roots in Chinese communist history.

In 1970 the scholar Cecil Johnson noted the Chinese Communist Party’s assiduousness in wooing members of the press corps, especially in Latin American countries: “The Chinese … have spared no effort in gaining supporters of this profession. They have not slighted representatives of small and rather insignificant papers and magazines.”

Some of the Caribbean countries targeted are small indeed. “You’re talking about populations that are very, very tiny, and so your press may be 10 people in total for a whole country,” said a State Department official who used to work in the region. “And all of them get to go to China.” When an entire press corps can be lifted out, “that may have a different impact when they come back.”

Political Hospitality

The system of treatment the Party extends to friends from afar is well-established: often, all expenses are paid, meals are provided, tours to historic sites organized, and expert lectures given on modern China according to the CCP.

Anne-Marie Brady is a New Zealand academic whose research focuses on China’s propaganda system. She writes that official hospitality is often mistaken by foreigners as a spontaneous manifestation of traditional Chinese good manners and warmth: in reality, it is often deliberate, planned, and systematic. It includes specific propaganda messages and handbooks for dealing with foreigners and their questions about the Chinese political system.

Under the guiding maxim that “hospitality is political,” officials meet and greet guests at the airport, give gifts, and provide enticements like free travel, accommodation, and “the most important ritual of Chinese social intercourse, the banquet.”

Flattery is an important part of the treatment the journalists receive.

As in most campaigns of external propaganda, the State Council Information Office, known internally as the Office of Foreign Propaganda, is involved. Indicating the importance with which the Party sees the trips, journalists are shepherded to the Office’s building to be thanked for their visit to China, often by a high-level official.

Li Jinzhang, the vice minister of Foreign Affairs, came in person to speak to the journalists in October 2010 at one of the Office of Foreign Propaganda’s modern new press halls. He hoped they would recognize the “60 years establishment of the New China, and especially the great successes brought by the last 30 years of ‘reform and opening up.’” It was hoped that their visit would “help [the journalists] more deeply understand China and report better on China.”

Hearts and Minds

The trips for journalists all have the purpose of influencing the individual’s views about China, including on its economy, society, and political system, and “of course it fits with their international campaign to influence media,” says Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “The question is if it works? Not sure,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Interviews with participants indicate that success has been mixed, but that certain basic propaganda goals were achieved.”

From the early ’90s on, the CCP began a deliberate program to weaken the public role that communist ideology—Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought—played for the Party in projecting its image. Instead, the communist elements in the CCP were to be downplayed, and China’s political status quo was to be presented more as a genuinely Chinese phenomenon.

Interviews with journalists who took part in the trip reflected a convergence of identification between the CCP and the nation and people of China—the CCP’s authoritarian regime was seen as “Chinese.”

Several journalists interviewed by The Epoch Times said that they find the prospect of an authoritarian political model personally distasteful, but said that in the final account “if that is your culture, then so be it,” or “how they run their country is their business.”

For many, experiences on the trip played a decisive role in forming opinions about China, though not all were convinced by what they saw.

In the case of Davidson, the Party’s message got through as intended: “There is obviously a dogged determination on the part of the Chinese government to ensure that the wealth that the country is enjoying is being spread to as many persons as possible,” he said. “You could see a genuine effort on the part of the administrators to ensure that people are taken care of. … I was very impressed.”

Most interviewees were mildly convinced by the efforts taken to sway them, but often answered with “undecided”—for example, on whether their impression of communist China was overall favorable or unfavorable.

“If they are convinced with what they are seeing in China,” said Gilles Lordet of RSF in an interview, “it’s not very positive for the press in their country,” because of China’s extensive censorship apparatus and human rights abuses.

In other cases, participants were more skeptical.

Ivan Cairo from De Ware Tijd, a daily newspaper in Suriname, got the impression that officials were trying to win him over, but felt “they presented to us what they wanted us to know.”

He is a senior journalist with the newspaper, and at the time he went, 2007, he was covering political issues related to China. “They were trying to influence my writing about the China and Taiwan issue, but it didn’t impact my writing at all; not at all.”

Reprinted from The Epoch Times: Caribbean Journalists Courted by Chinese Regime

Main and secondary title added by BFP. Certain formatting changes also made by BFP. Check The Epoch Times for the original version.

1 Comment

Filed under Barbados, Barbados News & Media, Ethics, Freedom Of Information, Freedom Of The Press

One response to “China gives Barbados journalists “Hard-to-resist treats, free trips, all expenses paid… and flattery”

  1. Green Monkey

    Almost have to wonder if some of North America’s finest haven’t been taking tours to China to pick up some tips on the latest in Chinese crowd control techniques.

    Note: Back in 1999, I reported that Black Bloc “anarchists” are actually welcomed by police where ever they go and allowed to commit highly telegenic acts of violence.t’s always the same story: They attack police cars, banks and ATM machines and Starbucks (sic).

    Invariably, police do nothing to interfere with, stop or arrest these people.

    In fact, the police are ordered to stand down, that is until they’re needed to brutalize innocent people.

    This is how it works folks. It’s the same deal over and over again.

    Cheers to the Torontonians for figuring it out and for local news media and politician for at least making noises like they object.

    I’ve yet to see a single American news outlet – right or left – get the first clue about this basic fact of life about politically motivated police violence.
    (video at link)