What exactly is the World Media Summit?

Two years ago I wrote about the inaugural session of the World Media Summit, a gathering of world media “leaders” conceived, planned and by all accounts funded by China’s official Xinhua News Agency, which falls under China’s State Council and is subject to the public opinion controls of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party. The biennial event, which China’s state media touted in 2009 as “the media Olympics,” kicked off again in Beijing yesterday.

Strangely, for an event that we are told is attended by representatives from hundreds of media from all over the world, there is precious little information out there about the summit. Let’s take a look at the whole universe of information available in English about what we are being told is a global media event attended by the executives at the center of global news creation. Here is an image of a portion of the Google News search results:

As of midday today there were 14 news articles shown for “World Media Summit”. In the order listed on the Google search page, each linking to the relevant article, here is a list of the news organizations responsible for the reports:

1. Xinhua
2. Xinhua
3. China National Radio
4. Xinhua
5. Xinhua
6. Xinhua
7. Xinhua
8. People’s Daily Online
9. Xinhua
10. Xinhua
11. The Voice of Russia
12. Shanghai Daily
13. Shanghai Daily
14. China National Radio

These news stories, all from central state media with the exception of Shanghai Daily and Voice of Russia, offer an interesting picture of China’s state agenda behind the World Media Summit. This September 26 report from Xinhua talks about the need to create a new world order for media. The report reads:

Currently, as the world situation is changing greatly, the reform of world media order is inevitable. Through the impact of the political, economic and technical developments, the world media are calling for the establishment of a fairer, all-win, inclusive and responsible international media order.

So this summit, apparently, is about the global power structure of media in the 21st century. The current “international media order” is unfair, Xinhua suggests, and we must “get all media from different countries and regions involved in news reporting in an equal way.” We need to have “comprehensive, objective and accurate news reporting,” but one goal of such coverage should be “eradicating the chasms between different civilizations and cultures.”

[ABOVE: Global news executives meet in Beijing to decide the future of the “international media order,” according to Xinhua News Agency reports.]

The underlying assumption here is of course that Western coverage of China (and of other countries too) is prejudicial, unfair and unequal — a theme we see again and again in the Party’s official discourse on the need to enhance China’s soft power and grab a greater share of “global public opinion.”

In my 2009 post, I documented the history of the summit’s creation, linking it to a specific central Party directive that became part of Xinhua’s “core work” plan. As Xinhua chief and World Media Summit President Li Congjun (who served for six years as a deputy chief of the propaganda department before taking his Xinhua post) wrote in the Party’s official Seeking Truth journal in February 2009:

[We must] actively seek out new horizons, new mechanisms, new channels and new methods in the area of outside dialogue and cooperation, particularly, as by the demands of central party leaders, successfully organizing the first meeting of the World Media Summit, building a platform for dialogue among first-rate international media (国际一流媒体), further raising the capacity of Xinhua News Agency to make its voice heard in the international news and information sector.

By the Party’s own reckoning, then, this global summit is really all about Xinhua — and more to the point, it is all about the media and propaganda ambitions of the Chinese state.

The bottom line for China is that news should be, well, more diplomatic.

Who, then, are the diplomats at the center of this new “world media order”? They are the news executive-packed “presidium” of the World Media Summit, a group essentially appointed by Xinhua ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As the governing body of the Summit, these executives are to determine the agendas of the various summits and handle “administrative matters” through “collective consultation.”

The “presidium” is made up of executives from the following news organizations. As a courtesy, I add the nations where they are headquartered:

1. Xinhua (China)
2. The Associated Press (United States)
3. The British Broadcasting Corporation (Britain)
4. The New York Times (United States)
5. Itar-Tass (Russia)
6. Kyodo News (Japan)
7. News Corporation (United States)
8. Thomson-Reuters (United States)
9. Al Jazeera Network (Qatar)
10. Google (United States)
11. Time-Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System (United States)

Al Jazeera and The New York Times were apparently added to the presidium more recently, and Li Congjun told state media this week that with their respective additions in 2010 and 2011 the World Media Summit was now “more representative in terms of cultural backgrounds, media forms and authoritative perspectives.'”

So, people of the world, here are your representatives. Here are the business executives who are tasked (according to Xinhua) with refashioning the “international media order.”

For pictures, names and titles of World Media Summit Presidium Members, see this page on the official website of the World Media Summit. The website also provides an introduction to the Summit and its objectives.

There is of course nothing wrong with global news executives meeting with their Beijing counterparts to discuss business cooperation and exchange.

The problem here is that news executives are being duped into participating in an institutional framework that is ostensibly “non-governmental [and] non-profit” but which is backed and funded by the Chinese state via its official news agency, and which clearly has agendas beyond simple business exchange that overlap with those of the Chinese leadership.

These media executives are representing themselves — or allowing themselves to be represented — as governing members of an organization that states publicly on an official website apparently managed by Xinhua News Agency itself, bearing an all-rights-reserved Xinhua copyright, that it plans to “set a code of conduct binding for all” in order to “tackle challenges and problems confronting all.” Li Congjun, the former deputy propaganda chief who runs Xinhua and is now the Summit’s president apparently proposed “establishing a WMS [World Media Summit] mechanism outlining a common code of conduct.”

Gentlemen, I think everyone understands why you have agreed to sit at the table. But is this really an agenda you have all signed up for? How much do you really understand about this institution? And what right do you have, however powerful your news organizations, to speak for the rest of the world’s media in setting any agendas beyond those of your corporations?

It is possible, of course, that I have entirely misunderstood this institution and your participation. Perhaps, then, your own news organizations can elaborate on the coverage provided by Xinhua. Perhaps they can explain to us what this institution means and why you have agreed to become its “co-chairmen.”

Tell us, please. What exactly is the World Media Summit?


8 Comments to “What exactly is the World Media Summit?”

  1. AllanF says:

    @ Itlee

    [SNIP: “If the presses form a closed system not subjecting to outside influence, you are certainly right. However, this is not the case. All presses are also subjected to external manipulations. Hence NY Times fails to inform their readers. And of course, NY Time is not the only problem.”]

    You seemed to have missed the point, these outside influences are often not from the same source (please note that i am not only talking about American media but global media!) and therefore the competition remains and as i quite clearly stated people are free to choose from a host of media in order to get a better idea of the truth. If as in China these outside influences are from one source, or in a global context the media all dance to the same tune, and violation of this authority is going to lead to penalties then how can we be sure of the truth?

    As for the rest of your post…frankly i am not sure what relevance your citations are to my point, if any. What i am sure of is it failed to address the question. But, i’ll play ball for a bit, these allegations of the media making America dumb have been around for a long time, a very long time! Is it true, maybe maybe not what is absolutely certain that the very same allegation can be leveled at China and due to a lack of competition in the media the effect can be more severe. Can if it is all controlled by one entity how do be know that this is right? As the saying goes “garbage in garbage out!”

  2. ltlee says:

    If the presses form a closed system not subjecting to outside influence, you are certainly right. However, this is not the case. All presses are also subjected to external manipulations. Hence NY Times fails to inform their readers. And of course, NY Time is not the only problem.
    American professor Sommerville had written a book with the title of “HOW THE NEWS MAKE US DUMB.” He, as indicated by the title of his book, argued that American press is making Americans dumb. Sommerville’s approach is analytical. He did not provide objective and conclusive evidence that Americans are indeed dumb and/or more misinformed than they should be.
    American pollster Andrew Kohut provided the evidence. In his book “AMERICA AGAINST THE WORLD: How We Are Different And Why We Are Disliked, he found that poll data indicated that Americans have a disconnect of a major order. For example,”most people around the world
    believe that America ignores their interests in making foreign policy, yet 67 percent of Americans feels that the United States pays attention ot the interests of other countries…”
    Were Americans by nature more disconnected? Or were they misled by the presses?

  3. AllanF says:

    @ Itlee

    The difference being that if they are in competition then one can read the NYT, Al Jazzera and a whole host of media to get a clearer picture of what is going on. If they are all on cahoots then how does one find out the truth? Watch CCTV?

  4. ltlee says:

    @Dr. Jones Jr
    Do you have any thing to support your belief that the presses serve the
    public best when they operate as rivals? Or is your belief faith based?

    Emeritus Professor Falk at the Princeton University, and the co-author
    of “THE RECORD OF THE PAPER: How the New York Times Reports U.S.
    Foreign Policy” , had once said, “If one lived in Soviet Union and
    read the Pavda, it would be easy for him to read between the lines and
    understood what the reality was. But if you are in the United States
    reading the New York Times, it would require a very sophicated person
    to understand where the manipulation was and where the real news.”
    But sophiscated readers may also have no chance in knowing the reality
    outside of America.

  5. joseph james alvaro says:

    Excellent article.
    People who are aware of what is going on in Chinese media are not at all surprised. China’s moves in this direction are completely predictable and can be seen as part of China’s efforts to colonize the free world’s media space ( and hence, mental space). No one is fooled. CMP: I thank for your untiring efforts at truth-telling and exposing the rot beneath.

  6. ltlee says:

    Don’t be absurd. When trans-national disaster strikes, don’t you think better cooperation between media is better than no cooperation?

  7. Anon says:

    I remember wanting to vomit after reading about the first World Media Summit. The only thing stopping me was the hope that it would be a one-time deal. I find it very, very difficult to believe that these guys could be anywhere close to possessing the level of naivete that one would need to possess in order to not understand EXACTLY what’s going on, here. I agree with you 100% that they need to explain themselves. The way I see it, the whole thing is painfully clear. The strategy is identical to that in other state-dominated industries in China: market access in exchange for “cooperation.” I would recommend that you try to publish an op-ed in one of the major western news outlets. Good luck finding one that isn’t controlled by one of these guys…

  8. Dr. Jones Jr. says:

    I’m really questioning the basic idea of this summit that media giants have any need to ‘cooperate’. To my knowledge, they serve the public (and the world) best when they operate as rivals, not as a cozy cartel.

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