World Media Summit – the future of news is in safe hands…not

OK, so can you tell me what’s wrong with this picture?

Chinese President Hu Jintao (7th L) poses for a group photo with co-chairpersons of the World Media Summit prior to the summit's opening ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on Oct. 9, 2009. The two-day summit, hosted by Xinhua News Agency, opened here Friday morning. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Chinese President Hu Jintao (7th L) poses for a group photo with co-chairpersons of the World Media Summit prior to the summit's opening ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on Oct. 9, 2009. The two-day summit, hosted by Xinhua News Agency, opened here Friday morning. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Talk about a nightmare featuring Men In Black. This comes pretty close.

The World Media Summit was held in Beijing from 9-11 October 2009 and brought together the leaders of 170 global news media companies to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the news industry in the age of News 2.0.

A number of important speeches were given by eminent people and a long-winded weasel-word statement was issued at the close of the summit.

It’s remarkable for the lack of irony, but the statement called for the news media to be a conduit for “world peace”. Yes, if this sounds like some lame beauty pageant, that’s exactly what it was, viz:

We hope that media organizations around the world will provide accurate, objective, impartial and fair coverage of the world’s news events, and promote transparency and accountability of governments and public institutions, and thus facilitate the mutual understanding as well as exchange of views and ideas among peoples from different countries and regions.

A fine sentiment, particularly given the summit was hosted by the Chinese regime and the keynote address was given by that well-known democrat and champion of media freedom Hu Jintao.

Hu’s speech left me speechless, but of course it was reported accurately and without bias in the press statements of the summit officials:

“The media should use their distinctive assets and advantages to convey the messages of peace, development, cooperation, mutual benefit and tolerance,” he said.

“All media organizations should be dedicated to the lofty cause of pushing forward peace and development,” he said.

Chinese president addresses World Media Summit

Keynote speeches from a number of senior global news executives make interesting reading.

Press Releases & Speeches
· Chinese president addresses World Media Summit
· Speech of Li Congjun, Xinhua president
· Speech of Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation Chairman and CEO
· Speech of John Liu, Vice President of Google
· Speech of Steve Marcopoto, president and managing director of Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific of Time Warner company
· Speech of Richard Sambrook, Director of Global News at the BBC
· Speech of Satoshi Ishikawa, President, Kyodo News
· Speech of V.N. Ignatenko, Director General of ITAR-TASS
· Speech of David Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief of Reuters
· Speech of Tom Curley, President and CEO of AP

I just want to comment on a couple of the keynotes as they highlight a series of key issues: most importantly perhaps, the moral vacuum that exists in the rarified atmosphere of CEOland when it comes to doing business with the Chinese regime. Take this example from Turner Broadcasting’s Steve Marcopoto:

OUR EXPERIENCE IN COVERING THE UNREST IN URUMQI LAST JULY WAS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW COOPERATION CAN IMPROVE THE QUALITY AND RELIABILITY OF REPORTING. DURING THAT STORY, PRESS HANDLERS IN XINJIANG QUICKLY SET UP A PRESS CENTER AND ISSUED PRESS PASSES TO CHINESE AND OVERSEAS JOURNALISTS. THEY ORGANIZED PRESS CONFERENCES AND PRESS TOURS INCLUDING INTERVIEWS WITH VICTIMS. OUR JOURNALISTS WERE BASICALLY ALLOWED TO MOVE AROUND AND TALK TO PEOPLE. COMMUNICATIONS LINES WERE DOWN AT SOME POINTS, HOWEVER, WHICH MADE IT DIFFICULT TO REPORT WITH THE SPEED CONSUMERS DEMAND TODAY AS THE GLOBAL 24 HOUR NEWS CYCLE DEMANDS CONCISE, ACCURATE AND TIMELY REPORTING ON BREAKING EVENTS.

HAD OUR JOURNALISTS NOT BEEN THERE AND NOT ABLE TO GET EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS, THE MEDIA MAY WELL HAVE DEVELOPED A ONE SIDED VIEW OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING, ASSUMING IT WAS A BLACK AND WHITE CASE. INSTEAD A NUANCED, BALANCED AND INTERNATIONALLY CREDIBLE PICTURE WAS PRODUCED ALONG WITH COMPREHENSIVE ANALYTICAL REPORTS.

Reading between the lines, this is a coded message to the Chinese regime that CNN and Time Warner are prepared to accept their role as propogators of Chinese state propaganda in return for access to Chinese eyeballs.

Satoshi Ishikawa, President of the Kyodo news agency, was also big on the “world peace” theme:

We believe the media have a social responsibility to promote world peace by sharing news and information about everyday events and by furthering mutual understanding in a way that goes beyond the limits of countries and regions.

It’s a pity that they don’t put this into practice, preferring the terror frame and moral panic to actually analysing and reframing global events like Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of American imperialism and the crisis of global capitalism in an age of declining oil reserves.

Mr Ishikawa also touched on the raw nerve of News 2.0: how to protect copyright and monetize news on the web.

Needless to say, intellectual property that is the result of the creative process must be protected. The development of communications technologies has made it easy to find interesting content online, copy it and make secondary and tertiary use of it. Distribution over the Internet of content copied without the copyright holders’ consent must not be allowed. Recently, this kind of illegal activity is occurring not only on websites but is spreading below the surface, as it were, with illegally copied content traveling from mobile terminal to mobile terminal. I think both traditional media and new online media need to cooperate in finding a global, comprehensive solution to this problem.

In other words, the cooperation the CEOs are seeking is the global emplacement of paywalls and tougher legal regimes to stop the bootlegging of copy. I’m sure Mr Ishikawa and Mr Murdoch had plenty to talk about at the tea ceremonies and formal banquets.

But I’m not so sure that Rupert would have got on so well with Richard Sambrook of the BBC, particularly given the war that News Corp has launched on the BBC’s subsidised web presence. Sambrook’s speech is interesting in the way it highlights how the MSM has been able to learn from and even co-opt the interactive features of social networking, blogging and user-generated news-like content into its highly commercialised web offeriings:

People want to have their say about events in the news – and more than that, they want to enter into a genuine debate with politicians and other people who make the news, and to connect with other people in their own country and all over the world, to share opinions about issues and events that concern them.

Our new services are designed to make this dialogue possible, bringing people around the world together in a global conversation that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

We’ve had to reinvent ourselves too; to be less ‘teacher and pupil’ and more ‘friend and companion’.

We have been able to host a real global conversation about the issues that matter around the world.

This is precisely the argument made by Dan Gillmor and others about the alleged “bottom up” benefits of News 2.0. It has been taken up enthusiastically by the MSM as a way of securing its income stream into the future.

There was one comment in the speech by ITAR-TASS Director GeneralV.N. Ignatenko, that seemed out of place among all the media business heavy hitters and it goes to the heart of the fundamental contradiction in the news commodity:

Mass media shouldn’t be engaged in power play or business. There are three fundamental criterions of our work – talent, conscience and responsibility for the society, to carry out these obligations is our duty and what we can call the major destination.

Another fine sentiment that doesn’t play out in the reality of global media capitalism. Conscience doesn’t satisfy the shareholders nearly as much as a healthy bottom line. But I must say I admire Mr Ignatenko’s unconscious honesty about the news industry:

I’ve got no doubts that you are sharing my opinion that “news factories” are to stay some kind of lighthouse guiding other kinds of mass media on the modern information space.

I love this line about “news factories”, the industrial age of journalism might not yet be over; capitalism is a resilient system of explotation that seeks out new markets and opportunities constantly and as a new kind of Market Bolshevik, Mr Ignatenko is keenly positioned to understand this.

David Schlesinger of Reuters is still perhaps living in the rosy world of idealism when he comments on the translation of the Chinese characters the news agency uses to brand itself in China:

From the beginning, Reuters Chinese name was important. 路透社 – the 透 that is the key second character is part of several important words, each of which is central to our mission.

“Penetrating”, “thorough” and “transparent” – these are the concepts that we bring to our reporting; these are the concepts that media in China as elsewhere in the world must strive for.

The financial crisis of the beginning of the 21st century has proven again that the Media’s role in providing the transparency necessary for a healthy market economy is vital.

What! But Mr Schlesinger, you guys missed that story by about 18 months. Where was your penetrating analysis in early 2008 when the toxic debt crisis was unfolding. A healthy market economy doesn’t thrive on transparency, but on thinly-disguised thievery and deceit. Like most of the news media, you didn’t start complaining until the rest of us were bleeding from the transparency of the market.

Associated Press CEO Tom Curly was on message with his speech though: it’s as if he, Rupert and Mr Ishikawa were cribbing their notes:

The marketplace for news content is growing. More people in more places seek out news more often than ever. Yet, we don’t get paid appropriately for our hard work and the risks we take.

Free-riders and pirates are claiming they’re entitled to our property.

I love the hubris: “we” don’t get paid enough for “our” hard work. Remember he’s speaking here on behalf of shareholders, not the front line hacks on the minimum wage.

So, have you figured out what’s wrong with the picture at the top of this post?

The suits still rule and there’s no women.

Fear the Men In Black, they want the contents of your wallet as tribute for the privilege of erasing your mind with anodyne sophistry and bland weasel word statements in their speeches and in their news outlets.

3 Responses to World Media Summit – the future of news is in safe hands…not

  1. […] Murdoch New Matilda Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)No free speech in New Zealand?World Media Summit – the future of news is in safe hands…notWould you buy freedom of speech from these people?A remarkable speech about the future of […]

  2. […] forms of autocratic secular regimes (Stalinist Russia and now Putin’s Gangster Capitalism; China, Burma, Sri Lanka) we also have to worry about theocratic authoritariansm (like Iran, Pakistan and […]

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