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Chinese learn to accept media scrutiny as Olympic host
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21:12, August 01, 2008

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· Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
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At breakfast time in the North Star Media Village, a foreign staff with the BOCOG (Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee) was sipping a cup of coffee in a second-floor canteen while watching attentively a CNN special program "Countdown Beijing."

Suddenly the scene was switched to several Chinese men spitting in public: "Ooh...Ow...Ooh..." The BOCOG staff frowned and gasped at the sight of successive spitting by three persons.

Not far from her table, a Chinese journalist who was also watching the program looked quite embarrassed, and seemed to have lost appetite after seeing the unpleasant scenes.

Other headlines of the day regarding the Beijing Games included "Web censorship" and "Olympic air," underlining China's blockage of a few overseas websites deemed illegal or harmful to national interests, and the persisting worries about Beijing's air quality.

With just a week before the curtain goes up for the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese, government officials and ordinary citizens alike, are feeling that they have been put under a magnifying glass of the global media, which are sending in some 20,000 to 30,000 reporters to cover both the Games and the host country.

Sun Weide, spokesman for the Games, has been bombarded with questions about Internet access for three consecutive days, while the information he tried to promote at the press conferences, such as Beijing's cultural heritage protection and the Games' medical service or competition schedule, was largely ignored by foreign journalists.

With the government pledging free news coverage in China by foreign media before and during the Beijing Games, many Chinese have seen the two sides of a coin -- more publicity for their country, but often more exposure of problems or blunt criticism.

"I saw the (CNN) program and I could see clearly that it aimed to tell its audience that Beijing had banned spitting and smoking in public for the Olympics -- it wasn't trying to show the audience how bad Beijing was," said a British reporter in the Games' Main Press Center (MPC) on condition of anonymity.

For some Chinese, however, the visual impact could still be too strong.

"I don't think they have to show the spitting scenes on the screen in front of the global audience," said the Chinese reporter who experienced the embarrassing moment in the media village canteen. "And I didn't remember any Chinese media catching spitting or other bad behaviors of local residents while covering the Games in Atlanta or Athens."

It also seemed unfair for some media to play up the air quality concerns and continuously question Beijing's capability to fulfill its Olympic pledges, while paying little attention to the Chinese's hard work in Games preparation and the country's substantial progress, added the reporter, who also asked not to be named.

But Paul Radford, sports editor of the Reuters which also devoted much attention to the hazy weather of the host city over the past days, ruled out the existence of any "preconceived idea of one particular thing" in Reuters' reporting.

"Wherever we are, our reporters are always looking for things different, unusual and of interest to our readers. So the news value is the most important point," he explained.

"It's quite natural for the foreign media to judge things and do their reports with a critical thinking, and from the journalistic perspective we should even learn to accept their ways of expression," commented Dr. Zhang Yuqiang, who teaches at the Communication University of China in Beijing.

However, things tend to be a bit different during the Olympic Games, said Zhang. "It's like a bride -- OK I'm not very beautiful, but I've done my best to look good for this particular occasion. Why couldn't everyone just say something nice about me at this particular party?"

Nevertheless, after seven years of Games preparation, the Chinese public have become more accustomed to criticism from outside, and more tolerant of different opinions. "That's one of the greatest merits of hosting the Games," said Zhang.

"I don't think they did anything wrong in just pointing out the problems," said Chen Xingna, an undergraduate of the Capital University of Economics and Business now serving as a volunteer in the MPC. "It all depends on where you are: no one spits here or on my campus, but I know some people still spit in public, though not so many."

"It's quite natural for the international media to find problems with the Games' preparations and with our country," said Xu Jicheng, deputy chief of the MPC. "If the problems are real, we shall make efforts to improve; if the report is biased or even distorted, we shall allow the audience to make judgment by themselves."

The only responsibility of the MPC is to facilitate convenient and smooth reporting for all media, no matter what they report or how they write, he stressed.

At a group interview in Beijing on Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao told some foreign reporters that China would always welcome their coverage and facilitate their work, while expressing the hope that they would file "objective" reports.

"China's door to the outside world is always wide open," said the president. "Whether during the Olympic Games or after the Olympic Games, we will always welcome foreign reporters to come to this country to cover what is happening."

Source: Xinhua

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