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December 01, 2004


Fons Tuinstra

One of the most important issues when outsiders look at China is to manage their own expectation. You address already some of those often overrated expectations quite well, Rebecca, but it does not harm to put it in more blunt terms. It is how I start my speeches to foreign business people coming to China to make sure they stay awake for at least the first five minutes: not China is the problem you have to take on, you yourself are the biggest obstacle in dealing with China.
The pattern with internet activist is no different. First they associate the internet with democracy and then they are annoyed with China because it fails to fulfill their anyway overrated expectations.
And because the internet activists outside China seem only interested in a full-scale democracy with nationwide elections, it is very hard to see the lesser achievements in their own right and perspective. In addition, Western media tend to focus on those things that go wrong in the way the internet in China is facilitating the fast growth of a civil society, you only read about censorship, arrests and barriers. That might very well reflex the frustrations of the outside world to establish a multiparty democracy within their life-time, it also alienates those forces inside China that do see the lightening changes in their country.
Of course, I cannot deny anybody their hopes or expectations, even when I feel they are overrated. But what I saw happen too often is that emerging voices from China are washed away in waves of unjustified expectations by the outside world.
Here’s my latest on the issue: http://www.chinaherald.net/2004/12/igniting-power-of-internet-wto-column.html

James Borton

Let's face it we Westerners are now steeped in a post-modern colonial cyber mentality. Sure, I use the Internet to write and email my friends and sources in China on a daily basis, but our praise of the new media, our rapt genuflection at the shrine of technology does not impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese. Television is the medium that counts in China.

The future for social change still rests with TV and networks like Phoenix TV which is now developing news programming. No one denies that for some it is "still viewed as a frontline Communist Party stronghold." In defense of their internal struggle for independence they bravely reported on 911 and even the recent China mining disasters.

I am confident that more broadcast gatekeepers will avoid the "party publicity" programming in order to survive economically. While the standard motto in broadcast is "no sex, no violence, now news," I am enough of an evangelist to think otherwise. China has more than its fair share of professional reporters and managers who catiously and cleverly are beginning to defy the authority of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

There's not any clear sign on the information highway for gateway access, but I do see a positive future trajectory for media reform in China and the liberation of the most impactful media- TV.

James Borton
Asia Times Online

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