Friday 27 January 2012

"The Persian Paradox"

Currently in Helsinki on business, about which more anon, but in the meantime I cannot recommend enough this interview with Wang Fengbo, a former editor at Deutsche Welle, over at JR's Place. Money Quote:

Q - Let’s suppose the Welle takes this approach: advocating human rights, becoming very explicit about human rights violations in China at times, and maybe this, too, would offend many Chinese listeners. This would – if my guesswork is correct – still spell rather reduced traffic on the Welle’s Chinese website. But you can’t make traffic the only criterion, can you? Isn’t there a risk of losing your own way as a broadcaster, if you keep toning down your message until the audience is satisfied?

A - I really love this question! For this is the question we, the former online colleagues, have discussed a thousand times! We are usually already one step closer to an answer if we have raised the question. The problem of the Chinese department since the later months of 2008 has been that you risk your “political correctness” if you dare to ask which appoach serves the goal of DW better.

Furthermore I think we shall distinguish advocacy journalism from advocacy of human rights. To say that I am not a fan of advocacy journalism is not to say I am against advocating human rights. That is a big difference. This is rather a question of the path to goal, not the goal itself.

I don’t doubt that DW has a mission to advocate human rights, comparable to the so-called value-oriented foreign policy of the federal government of Germany. But does it necessarily mean that you must do this by not caring about your website traffic anymore? If you have zero traffic, how could you then promote your great values?

. . . . .

This is something I call the “Persian-paradox”, in some joking way. I was told by a colleague about how the Persian language department of DW has responded to such kinds of questions. [...] During the protest wave around 2009 in Iran, they firstly achieved a relatively high record of visits, but this should have made them feel uneasy. And days later the Persian website of DW was blocked in Iran and they should have felt a great release by telling around in House of DW the good news: “we are also blocked!”

I cannot tell if the story is true. But I do believe, be it just a fiction, it can best illustrate the dilemma or paradox of DW. I guess the logic behind this should be: If you are not blocked yet, you are not sufficiently politically correct. The compulsory logical conclusion out of this state of mind is a clear one: The DW [outlets] can [only be proved] morally good enough by zero traffic from their target-countries. Isn’t this a new form of cold-war mindset? Shall DW be satisfied with the role as a monologue-talker?"
(emphasis added)

Of course when even people like Shaun Rein find that their works are refused distribution in China you can ask if it is all that easy to judge what will get you blocked or not, but it is worth asking what the point of broadcasting things that will be blocked is when you are trying to reach the Chinese public.

Friday 13 January 2012

Tomorrow's Taiwan Weather Forecast: Rainy with chance of attempted assasination

Who's going to win tomorrow's Taiwanese election? I genuinely don't know - the latest polls had Ma either a few percentage points ahead or one behind depending on who you ask.

Who should win it? I'm definitely not anti-Ma, in fact, in as much as a non-citizen, non-resident should have an opinion on this, I supported Ma Yingjiu against Hsieh in the last election - whatever his failings, he remains a smart guy, and a moderate leader. All the same, Tsai Yingwen also has some very good qualities - she's also a moderate, and also smart.

Who would I pick, then? For me it would be Tsai - it would mark a return to the mainstream for the DPP that would prevent a lurch towards extremism (or being unrealistically idealistic, if you want to put it that way). Also very important is that should she win, she would be the first woman in the Chinese-speaking world to become a legitimate, de jure leader of her country since Wu Zetian.

The one thing we don't want to see is another repeat of the failed assassination shenanigans that marred the 2004 and 2008 elections - but even if they don't recur, it seems almost inevitable that the losers will accuse the winners of rigging the results.

[Picture: Wu Zetian, the last de jure female leader in the Chinese-speaking world. Via Wiki.]

Monday 2 January 2012

What the Taiwanderful poll tells you about the state of the Taiwanese blogosphere

In short: bad. The top two blogs (Free Taiwan and Letters from Taiwan) represent the polarised extreme of either side of Taiwan's political debate.

On the pro-pan blue side, Free Taiwan seems to specialise in accusing the DPP's Tsai Yingwen of being a traitor. Here's a sample:

"Tsai Ing-wen has proven many times that she is a traitor to the Republic of China – turns out she also betrays those of her supporters, who one day want to establish a so called “republic of taiwan” . What Tsai Ing-wen and her extremist clique of supporters have in mind is selling Taiwan to the United States of America."

And what was the catalyst for this rant? It was the appearance of a US flag amongst the crowd at a DPP rally.

On the pro-pan-green side we have the marginally more sane Letters From Taiwan, who carries on the time-honoured tradition of interpreting boiler-plate statements by KMT officials as signalling a program of surrender to the mainland authorities:

"Ma is sending a coded message that 100 years from now, ROC citizens will thank ‘you’ (read: ‘mainlanders’ and ROC loyalists) for having the wisdom and courage to push for a unified China once again under ROC, read KMT, patronage. Taiwan and Taiwanese will thank their lucky stars that they chose a President who had the courage to push for the only solution to facing an aggressive authoritarian neighbour - surrender."

What exactly was it that Ma said? Here's the offending paragraph:

“We are confident that when the next generation speaks of the marvel of Asia’s and mainland China’s rise, it will certainly also feel pride in the rise of Taiwan and the rise of the ROC. A century from now when ROC citizens think back on us, it will be wonderful if they can say: ‘How lucky that Taiwan had you.”

I guess the high degree of polarisation in the Taiwanese blogosphere can be excused by the highly polarised nature of Taiwanese politics itself, however, one does expect foreign observers to have a degree of detachment from local politics which is not actually apparent in Taiwan at the moment. Perhaps this explodes the myth that expat observers are likely to be more neutral or objective than their local counterparts. Whatever the cause, I think I can be forgiven for longing for more adult behaviour than what passes for political debate in the Taiwanese blogosphere at the moment.