Guangdong fails to live up to great media expectations

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2012, 12:00am


Guangdong is known for being at the forefront of reform on the mainland and a key testing ground for pilot policies. It is also the cradle of the mainland's most outspoken media outlets and its most significant grass-roots democratic movement.

But journalists at the annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing who expected that to be reflected in more dynamic and less censored press conferences tackling bolder questions from a diverse range of media were disappointed.

In fact, the Yunnan delegation outshone Guangdong's.

Non-mainland media outlets were only granted access to one session with the Guangdong delegation and one press conference by Governor Zhu Xiaodan - both far from upbeat. And most opportunities to ask questions were given to mainland reporters.

Provincial party chief Wang Yang gave a couple of lively quotes during a Guangdong delegation session last Monday, but his most colourful ones, including his pledge to petition the central government for more reform, were released at other sessions open only to the mainland media.

During Zhu's one-hour press conference last Friday, he took about 20 minutes to answer each question - limiting the number that could be asked. They were also open-ended and non-specific, allowing Zhu to read from previously scripted answers.

Some Hong Kong reporters were upset that their raised hands were ignored and took to shouting out questions. Zhu eventually promised them an opportunity at the end.

Maybe the press officer running the show was trying to prevent questions about protest village Wukan or Wang's promotion prospects. But seasoned politicians like Wang and Zhu do not need to be protected from reporters as if they are children.

Saturday's meeting with Yunnan delegates showed the benefits of a more liberal approach.

Chaired by Yunnan Governor Li Jiheng, the press conference addressed sensitive questions from both foreign and local media. Li also kept things rolling along with a hearty laugh and dashes of humour.

He brushed off embarrassing questions with smart answers and all journalists were given a fair opportunity, with Li even allowing the press conference to run more than half an hour longer than scheduled.

There were plenty of candid answers by various Yunnan officials on newsworthy topics, including refugees crossing the border with Myanmar and whether years of severe drought are related to tobacco growing.

Maybe the Yunnan officials were more relaxed than those from Guangdong because they were not carrying such a heavy political burden. Wang must watch every word he says to remain in contention for a spot on the Politburo Standing Committee this autumn.