Posted at 11:05 AM on April 18, 2008
by Jeff Horwich
This week, in the category of "Officials say the darndest things:"
I got a laugh from a New York Times story that showed just how little some Chinese officials "get" the way media work in countries with a free press.The article was ostensibly about something else: "Construction Halted Ahead of Games." But what stood out to me were the embarrassingly smug, presumptive statements from a mid-level official:
If Beijing's air remains unacceptably sullied in the days leading up the Games, officials said, they would take "stringent steps" to curb polluting industries, although they declined to say what those might be. "We will do everything possible to honor the promise," Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the city's Environmental Protection Bureau, told reporters. "Just tell everybody they don't have to worry."
Oh, OK. You don't share any details, and we'll just tell our readers it's all going to be fine. The official was talking here to a roomful of foreign reporters, but speaking to them (I guess) as if he's giving orders to state-owned news agency. Here's another:
Even on a day when the horizon was notably hazy and the fumes from idling cars undeniably acrid, Mr. Du urged a roomful of reporters to tell the public how much better Beijing's air had become in recent years. "Please assure all the athletes," he said.
Yeah, sure. With a naive attitude like this, it's no wonder the torch relay has turned into such a P.R. disaster. China needs to figure out how the free media works, and fast.