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:
3. China National Radio
8. People’s Daily Online
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.”
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?