It’s not about sports either. It’s about publicity and spin and image and all those other crass things that seem to cut to the core of the modern Olympics.
There’s a big dose of fear in there, too, to match China’s rightly deserved confidence that the Games (the sporting part, that is) will go well. China is getting nervous about what it sees as “intensifying negative publicity.” So it has done what comes natural: tighten the muzzle on the domestic press.
The South China Morning Post reports this morning that officials from the Central Publicity Department (the former propaganda bureau) ordered Chinese journalists last week to begin steering clear of any Olympics stories that would cast the nation in a bad light.
The written circular, which the paper said was delivered last week, warned reporters that they should take particular care with four sensitive topics: air quality, food safety, the Olympics torch relay and the Paralympics.
“It also requires state media to put a spin on those topics in order to ‘offset the bad publicity’ created by those previous reports,” the newspaper quoted an editor informed of the new policy as saying.
The newspaper (behind a pay wall) noted that the Olympic organizers have been taking foreign journalists on tours of venues and allowed more interviews, part of what it called a charm offensive.
"The [publicity department] circular mentioned these organised tours as part of a campaign to reverse the situation in what they apparently view as a propaganda war," said another Beijing-based newspaper editor who had access to the document.
"But the essential point it presents is that domestic press should come up with more `positive' Olympics stories to influence their foreign counterparts' agenda."
Mainland media regulators have paid increasing attention to the fact that most foreign media pick up story ideas from the domestic press and are seeing this process as a potential threat to their efforts to project an impeccable image for the Games, largely considered a coming-out party.
Hmm. Interesting. So the foreign press is lumped together as having an agenda somehow in opposition to China’s national interests.
So now on to scan the front page of the China Daily, where unremittingly positive stories abound. One headline notes that China will finally permit foreigners with HIV/AIDS to enter the country (they’ve been banned in the past as a threat to Chinese). Another headline notes that an anti-doping agency has been set up for the Games.
Don’t expect to be seeing negative stories about Beijing smog here.
I, for one, love Olympics events that are so minor that one can be sure the athletes are only taking part for love of the sport. They’ll be getting neither rich nor famous. And there’s very little nationalism. Let’s hear it for the biathlon! And water polo! And team handball!
What’s the sensitivity with the Paralympics about anyway? Maybe I haven’t been paying attention.