Governments, images and a question of scale

The Chinese government knows its image in the West could use some improvement.   It is widely considered to be inexpert and off-tone when communicating to Western audiences.   Der Spiegel has a very good piece about China’s massive PR & media efforts to counter unwanted perceptions, which is illustrative in several ways, not least of which being to show how huge old media campaigns seem clunky and bound to produce unsatisfactory results (from the campaigner’s perspective).  This just isn’t how things are done any more.   Parts of this effort work, and some aspects are innovative, but one wonders if it ever occurred to the Chinese government to consider new media influence.   Why not go find stories worth telling to support the image they desire and launch multiple campaigns of web documentary videos and social media influencer outreach?  That may seem sort of minor or peripheral considering the scale, but think about it for a second.  A few big old media operations supplemented by a great many smaller, targeted new media campaigns seems a lot smarter, cheaper and more dynamic.

Spending billions to get state run media or its surrogates to try and change perceptions of authoritarian disagreeableness will probably create the opposite result.  Here’s a telling paragraph from that Spiegel article:

More than journalistic skills, Beijing expects allegiance from its media representatives. “We must strengthen the party’s leading role in radio, film, and television,” declares Wang Taihua, director of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television. When CNN or BBC broadcast images critical of China, Beijing simply switches monitors to black


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