18th Party Congress

Foreign reporters make news during congress

Glowing quotes from overseas journalists spice up coverage, but don't always prove objective

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 3:48am

The state-run media were more than happy to turn those who usually make the news into the newsmakers during this year's Communist Party congress.

Media outlets repeatedly turned to the reporters themselves to set a triumphant tone for the seven-day extravaganza of party, pride and patriotism. But not just any reporters; foreign reporters.

Forget the usual haranguing over foreign media agents conspiring to foment unrest and undermine the party - a story revived just last month with angry reaction to The New York Times' exposé about Premier Wen Jiabao's family wealth.

Last week, the press was buzzing with interviews with overseas reporters praising a re-emergent China and accounts of journalists grateful for an up-close look at the once-in-a-decade leadership change in the world's second-largest economy. Perhaps it was another attempt to convince mainlanders how much China has grown in global clout and prestige. Or perhaps party leaders have just grown bored with the hallelujahs they typically get from the state-controlled press.

"Experience gives foreign reporters wider view of progress", read one headline in China Daily, which went on to explain how these overseas scribes were "optimistic about China's future".

The congress' media centre was busy hosting events to keep foreign reporters distracted and entertained - and maybe a little informed - as party leaders went about their business, much of it behind the scenes.

The main party mouthpiece, People's Daily, touted how 1,704 reporters had come from overseas to witness the power transfer and quoted several praising "the successful party congress" and "the more open Communist Party".

"I was even picked by the Guangdong delegation to ask a question in a sideline meeting," said Malcolm Moore, Beijing correspondent for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. "I should say the 18th congress provided a great chance to understand China and the [Communist Party], not only for us but also the world."

People's Daily used an interview with an American radio reporter to lead a story headlined "Foreign reporters eye diverse issues at congress". The Beijing Evening News similarly cited foreign reporters' reactions to tout the large monitoring screen at the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, which made viewing the party congress "like watching movies".

Of course, with so many glowing appraisals, the state media had no room to mention the difficulties foreign reporters faced covering the event, including internet blackouts and a lack of access. Many who had attended the last party congress in 2007 before the Beijing Olympics said officials seemed less open this year.

The decision to exclude The New York Times, Bloomberg and some Japanese media from the final ceremony announcing President Xi Jinping's ascension as party chief was also not explained.

Bloomberg had earlier this year run an explosive report about Xi's family wealth. Beijing and Tokyo have been in a diplomatic fight over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkakus.

Nor was it mentioned that some of the "foreign" journalists heaping praise on the party turned out to have connections to the central government.

So foreign media were understandably sceptical after a young Australian woman who gave the name Andrea Yu was called on four times during press conferences, only to ask softball questions. The Wall Street Journal discovered the Melbourne radio station she worked for was affiliated with state-owned China Radio International. Yu told the paper she was not allowed to ask more pointed questions.

The same woman - this time using the name Andrea Hodgkinson - turned up on the cover of Friday's Oriental BQ magazine. The big headlines read: "Australia watches the 18th national congress".

A popular post on Sina Weibo said it all: "Now even the foreign media are made in China."