Simon Elegant at Time Magazine’s The China Blog made some interesting observations about the new English edition of the Global Times. His concerns are shared to some extent by my co-blogger Ned Kelly, even though Ned is writing exclusively about possible dilemmas facing American journalists who choose to work for the CCP propaganda machine.
There is nothing wrong with a multi-lingual newspaper (or broadcasting service) wanting to adopt a slightly different editorial focus for each of its different language editions. Major European national broadcasters such as the BBC (as a commenter “bylooker” has correctly pointed out) have similar arrangements for their Chinese language services. After all, different language editions appeal to different audience groups. However, what would happen if different editorial policies result in major ideological conflicts? Or if there is a complaint from a bilingual Chinese patriot who is adamant that certain topics should remain taboo for national interest? How are these differences going to be reconciled?
Before anyone accuses me of fear mongering, I want you to have a closer look at the Zhang Danhong incident. Zhang Danhong’s experience at Deutsche Welle serves as solemn reminder that disputes resulting from two language editions of a single publication adopting different editorial policies can have devastating effects for the parties involved, particularly those in the firing line.
JR from JustRecently’s Beautiful Blog has covered the Zhang Danhong incident in great details. I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. So I am referring you to JR’s Blog for a detailed coverage. Below, I’ll just give a quick summary.
Like the BBC, Deutsche Welle’s Chinese Service operates under the principle of editorial independence. A while ago, Zhang Danhong, the deputy manager for its Chinese Department, was suspended. The entire Chinese Department was subsequently under review for allegedly violating the national broadcaster’s policy of promoting democracy and human rights. The case had been referred to a parliamentary commission for hearing. There were allegations made against Ms Zhang for saying that China had succeeded in lifting 400 million people out of poverty during the past thirty years, thus contributing more than other nations to Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was also accused of sugar-coating original German reports in Beijing’s favour when she translated these reports into Chinese. She had allegedly translated “Tibetan protests” into “violent riots”, and “protesters” into “separatists”. Thanks to the German legal system’s respect for freedom of speech, Ms Zhang was finally acquitted of misconduct. Her professionalism, however, was under strict scrutiny and she was subsequently suspended from working in front of the microphone. The Head of Department Matthias von Hein was also removed from his position and transferred elsewhere.
Should a similar dispute break out at the Global Times, I doubt very much parties in the firing line would be treated with such leniency and fairness. After all, any scandal of such magnitude will constitute a loss of face for the newspaper’s management board. We all know how well Chinese leaders respond to complaints and criticisms. Last but not least, will there be circumstances in which reporting “stories on topics that are taboo in the Chinese media” can be construed as “leaking state secret” or as “foreign agents conducting espionage activities in China”? Yes, Simon, it’s a good suggestion. I’ll keep a keen eye on further development.