Every day I ply my trade as a public relations practitioner, which at its core means that in order to be employed, I depend on a culture that allows freedom of expression.
I have to admit that I am not much of an activist myself, but Sasha Gong's op-ed piece in the Washington Post (which was later run in the Houston Chronicle where I read it) really hit home for me.
Sasha is a very popular Chinese blogger. She has millions of readers every year, and over 90 percent of them come from China. But Sasha, who lived as a political dissident in China for many years has now lived in the US for over two decades.
In effect, she is the “voice of America” for potentially millions of Chinese. She was one of five Chinese “freedom activists” that met with President Bush before he left for the Olympics.
She made a simple request:
I gave the president a suggestion: How about proposing a free information exchange agreement with China? The Chinese government is already educating the American public about China, without much reciprocity. Why shouldn't our own government-sponsored programs be able to tell the Chinese audience about the United States without censorship? Fair is fair.
And then she went on to explain that as American's we can get a number of Chinese language radio, television and print sources, but the Chinese are even denied access to the radio program “Voice of America,” which is often jammed by the government. In fact, she credits VOA for helping form her young opinions of the West.
The problem with the absence of information goes beyond simple ignorance. For where there is a lack of information, people can make things up to suit their own world view. As a a result, many young Chinese that were not around for the Mao years are very susceptible to the negative images carefully scripted by China's leaders. And the Chinese government leaves nothing to chance, even down to the computer generated fireworks.
Anything messy or out of place is quickly righted, as we are seeing in the Olympics, the facades are whitewashed and the Chinese themselves are self editing.
This morning, some of the leaders of Students for a Free Tibet were featured on Democracy Now. And what struck me most about that interview was when the activists, who were expelled from China, said that ordinary Chinese citizens, in addition to the police, were working against them. One of the activists Noel Hildago, also known as noneck on Twitter, was there to stream live Qik video (and here are a few more).
When Sasha made her request to the President, she also mentioned that millions of Chinese read her entries about America, showing that they were hungry for the information, and the President replied, “If you have millions of readers, what are you complaining for?”
What indeed? I think it is time for us all to take a little responsibility beyond the bottom line.
Editorial Note: I wrote this article in response to Ed Moed's call to action on his blog Measuring Up! to those of us that were nominated for the PRWeek PR Blog Competition. Tomorrow my little blog is David up against the Goliath Richard Edelman and his always interesting 6 am blog. I am hoping though that we all take a moment to take up Ed's challenge, not just to write about China, but also ethical behavior in a digital age. And you don't have to be nominated to the competition to do it. Already a few have done just that, either as a direct answer to Ed or just because they are naturally interested in doing the right thing:
- THINKing: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Bamboo Curtain
- PepperCom: Ethics and the Bottom Line
- PR Squared: Astroturfing In Political Wars
- Phil's Blogservations: Exposing Florida's Pay to Play Production Shops
- The Flack: Russia's Olympic Surprise
- Influential Marketing Blog: Reports from Beijing
- Do You Stand For Something: Is Something Missing in Olympic Advertising?
- PR 2.0: Also calls for a higher purpose to this competition