Reporters sans frontieres – boycotting the Olympics

I am interested to see that the usually non-partisan Reporters sans frontieres (Reporters without borders) is campaigning quite hard for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

One can’t really argue with the campaign’s slogan “China: the world’s largest prison for journalists and cyber-dissidents”, though Baghdad and Kabul are probably more dangerous, perhaps even Moscow and the former Soviet Union.

I must say though, that I agree with the RSF.

There’s an interesting global dynamic in play today – Beijing has been given the Olympics, in part recognition of the place of China as a powerhouse in the global economy. On the other hand, most of us in the west are very well aware of the Chinese regime’s poor human rights record. Most recently we’ve been reminded of this because of the anti-independence crackdown in Tibet. The Dalai Lama is no saint but he’s more popular in the west than Chinese premier Wen Jibao.

But recently we’ve also seen an explosion in Chinese nationalist sentiment among mainlanders abroad as they have been mobilised to defend China’s honour and show the flag in San Francisco, Canberra and Japan. The progress of the Olympic torch has been dogged by protests. The torch didn’t make it to Auckland, but the pro-China protest earlier today saw thousands of Chinese students and others driving and marching around the CBD with banners and placards proclaiming that Tibet “always was” and “always will be” part of China.

20 years ago most Chinese living outside the mainland would have been very anti the Stalinist regime in Beijing, the turn around in modern China is remarkable and interesting. Today they are complaining about anti-Chinese bias in the western media.

The Beijing regime is doing a good job of harnessing patriotism and nationalism and it’s quite ironic that it’s happening at the same time as Australia and New Zealand celebrate their own jingoistic orgy of patriotic sentiment, the 93rd anniversary of Galipolli – ANZAC Day.

It seems that in some detail the media did get aspects of the Tibet protests wrong – such as identifying Nepalese police as Chinese soldiers – but over all the repression in Tibet is real and the Chinese government is in the wrong.

And the anti-Chinese stance of the western media might also backfire. On one hand there’s the need to support ideals of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly; on the other there’s the economic reality of China’s growing weight in the world economy (signified by the recent Free Trade Agreement signed by New Zealand) and then there’s the whole bullshit propaganda offensive around the “apolitical” Olympic ideals.

A rats’ net of contradictions for everyone.

In closing, this is really the truth of the propaganda war so far

It might be facing an Olympic opening ceremony boycott and mounting criticism from abroad, but the government has largely succeeded in mobilizing its 1.3 -billion people into a unified force, giving it the domestic legitimacy it craves for its survival.

“Thanks to the protests, the Chinese Communists may have consolidated support by its citizens for years to come,” says Roland Soong, a shrewd observer of Chinese politics who runs a blog analyzing the Chinese media. “For the Chinese Communists, the responses from Western governments, media and citizens are immaterial,” he wrote in his blog. “The paramount goal of the Chinese Communists is to retain control of China, and therefore it is the response from the Chinese citizens that matter.” (from a piece by Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail newspaper)

This is why I support a boycott of the Olympics, the Chinese regime gains legitimacy from hosting the Games and even when there are protests abroad, the grip of the propaganda state apparatus is such that millions of ordinary Chinese are fooled, cajoled and/or bullied into falling in with their government and extending their denial of the reality. A bit like how the media in Australia and New Zealand deal with ANZAC Day, complete with poppies and the solemnity of the “Last post”.

“Lest we forget”, indeed.

3 Responses to Reporters sans frontieres – boycotting the Olympics

  1. undergroundnetwork says:

    Great post Martin,

    I also support the idea of a boycott, hell I think participating countries should be boycotting the event. However I do not foresee a media boycott occurring, there is just far too much money involved in the Olympics.

    It will interesting to see how the Olympics are reported by those that do attend the games. How much influence will the Chinese government have on their reports? I imagine that this will present China with a significant problem, as I assume it will be the largest number of foreign reporters they’ve had in their country. Will they be able to censor them all? Perhaps the event provides the world a excellent opportunity to hear some suppressed Chinese voices. I don’t expect too much from the Tibetan region though!

    I must agree, I love the slogan! Perhaps at the very least the organistation can ensure that journalists who do attend do not forget the reality of the situation in China. They may, unfortunately, feel inclined to focus only on the sports, and neglect the politics. Hopefully this campaign can at the very least raise the consciousness of those journalists that attend.

    I think the irony with the rent-a-mob pro-China protesters is that they are expressing a right (free speech) that they do not have in their home country. I assume this fact has escaped them.

    See you in the tower,

  2. Bunnyhugs says:

    You might find my post on the ‘Olympic Celebration’ rally in Auckland interesting.

    I wouldn’t quite say that the Chinese protesters are expressing a right they don’t have in China. In China they also have the right to protest foreign things. Issues arise only when they protest their own government.

  3. Katie Small says:

    If the Olympics weren’t scheduled for Beijing, I really doubt the world would be talking about human rights atrocities in China as much as we are.
    As a major attraction for both media coverage and protest, the torch relay has been a PR disaster for the country, and it has got us all talking about the lack of media freedom in China.
    I’m not saying that us talking about it will change much. But I think it is better the world is aware of what is going on inside China, than oblivious. And we are so much better informed thanks to media coverage of torch relay protests.

    In terms of the Tibet protests, I think it ironic that the report I read that assigned most culpability to Tibetans themselves was written by a journalist actually inside the region when protests broke out. Chinese media restrictions left most reporters in the West scrabbling in an information vacuum – filled by exiled Tibetans.
    I wonder if the CCP will learn from this.

Leave a reply and try to be polite

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: