Chongqing and media: a case for better understanding

In a possible effort to correct the tone of reporting of the “red culture campaign”, on April 29, Chongqing’s Party Secretary Bo Xilai spoke to a group of journalists from Hong Kong and Macao.

At the meeting, Bo tried to scotch speculation of the campaign being a movement to revive the politics and spirit of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). On the contrary, Bo said, it was aimed at energizing communities and motivating people in good faith.

Bo’s clarification, it is hoped, would reverse the worsening public relations of the Chongqing government that launched the “red culture campaign” a year ago. Since then, the campaign has drawn widespread criticism, giving rise to a suspicion that Chongqing was indoctrinating locals with outdated “red songs” and “revolutionary dogma.”

However, it appears that there is a world of difference between media accounts and the actual “red campaign.” The “Red TV” that many liberals are prone to ridicule is nothing more than a public service TV station, which is stripped of commercial advertisements.

More important is that while media is questioning alleged attempts at harking back to Chairman Mao’s era, Chongqing people are all for the authority’s decision. In fact, they find the public service provided by the campaign rather entertaining.

True, the Chongqing government’s campaign is based on traditional revolutionary elements, which, of late, are rarely seen or heard. This may explain the considerable misunderstanding that has arisen in the first place. Nevertheless, realistically, the campaign cannot be resonant of the Cultural Revolution. After all, the skepticism against ideas of the Cultural Revolution, characterized mainly by bigotry, is what distinguishes the prevalent pluralistic culture.

Besides, the very misreporting of the campaign reflects a peculiar ambivalence in our society. Many people are nostalgic about the old “red days” of less crime and more honesty when equality, simplicity and a different set of morals were the order of the day.

However, these people dread the return of that egalitarianism which calls for sacrificing the gains of economic liberalization. Thus, liberal media is apprehensive about the word “red,” because this evocative word is associated with retrograde solutions to many social problems of today.

Apart from the pervasive prejudice among large sections of the media, perhaps, Chongqing’s inept public relations worsened matters. For most of last year, the Chongqing government was generally reserved toward much of the national media. Thereby, first, it failed to mold opinion, and then it did not urge the public to find the truth.

Bo’s conversation with Hong Kong and Macao journalists hasn’t come too late. At least, it brought to the fore a discussion of Chongqing’s own perspectives. The media should focus on providing true accounts rather than travesties. For the Chongqing authorities, this is a deserved lesson on how to manage their public relations.

By Global Times

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