China’s execution of Naw Kham, a drug lord convicted of masterminding the execution-like killing of 13 Chinese seamen on the Mekong River in October 2011, has whipped up a storm of controversy for its lead-up being carried live on state TV. Laos had extradited Naw Kham, a Burmese, and three of his gang, one Thai, one Lao and one stateless, to China in May 2012. They were convicted and sentenced to death by a Kunming court last November. CCTV, in a live two hour broadcast, showed the men being taken from their cells and subsequently prepared for execution by lethal injection. It did not air footage from inside the death chamber.
Naw Kham being handed over to Chinese authorities in May 2012
Condemned criminals were once commonly paraded before their execution but the practice is now rare, and certainly on live TV. Yu Guoming, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Mass Media, was quoted as saying the broadcast was a response to widespread outrage in China over the brutality of the killings, as well as an attempt to emphasize the heinousness of the crime and the efficiency of China’s police and courts in doling out justice. Civil rights activists have criticized the broadcast as an affront to human dignity.
The broadcast was also likely an attempt by authorities to reassure Chinese that their government is paying attention to the safety of its nationals abroad as China’s increasing global reach puts more of its citizens in harm’s way around the world.
There is something primordial about a massive fire in a city. The towering inferno that was one of CCTV’s still unopened new headquarters buildings in Beijing has produced mesmerizing images, as well as a Twitterfest. Shanghaiist has a collection of some of the best shots taken by eyewitnesses (whatever did we do before there were digital cameras?).
Illegally set New Year fireworks are already being blamed for the fire. BBC has some stunning video footage, links here and here, that certainly looks as if there were bursts of fireworks exploding. Hard to imagine that fireworks alone could have sparked such a conflagration. What effect did the building’s unusual zinc-titanium skin have? Who knows how much will come out from whatever investigation is held–especially on the state broadcaster.
State media didn’t feature the fire prominently as it was happening. ChinaSmack says that news portals may have been instructed to limit information about the fire to Xinhua bulletins. It also has more photos.
The destroyed building was to have housed CCTV’s Television Cultural Center, including a theater and recording studios, and a Mandarin Oriental hotel, due to be completed towards the end of this year. It was part of CCTV’s architecturally daring Big Underpants complex being built at a cost of 5 billion yuan ($730 million).
Even if the death toll remains at one, a firefighter–and the building was said to have been empty, so let’s hope–this is going to prove an challenging PR test for the propagandists. This goes way beyond yet another safety-sloppy industrial accident. This is iconic new Beijing being scorched and blackened by a primal force. And at New Year. A bad omen. Senior heads at CCTV will likely roll.
Update: CCTV’s site manager, Xu Wei, 50, is among 12 people detained under suspicion of having caused the fire with banned fireworks, a spokesman for the municipal public security bureau said Thursday.
English football is widely watched on TV (and often heavily gambled on) everywhere in Asia, except China. The reason for that is that the games have been on WinTV since 2007 when the subscription service outbid free to air broadcasters for China rights to the games. The size of the viewing audience has reportedly fallen from 30 million to about 20,000 following the switch.
Now Bloomberg reports that the English Premier League, worried that its big clubs are missing out on a potentially lucrative merchandising market and the game is at risk in its global marketing battle with basketball, is trying to get the matches back on free TV.
It is reportedly brokering a consortium of advertisers to buy the China rights when they next come up in 2010. The consortium would then give the games to CCTV for broadcast. No names of whom the advertisers might be, but they are “world-wide brands in the sporting goods, soft drinks and alcoholic beverage industries”, Phil Lines, the Premier League’s head of international broadcasting and media operations, told Bloomberg.
Novel approach to sports media rights and a further sign of the potential importance of the domestic Chinese market to global businesses.
Update: The Offside, a football blog, has a more skeptical take on the EPL’s proposal.
Modeling a proposed 24-hour cable news channel on Al-Jazeera is bound to be taken the wrong way in the U.S. and set false expectations elsewhere. But that is the model that Beijing reportedly has at the heart of a 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion) investment in its three main state media, Xinhua, CCTV and the People’s Daily, expanding their services to give China a global media voice commensurate with its emerging superpower status.
Beyond the 24-hour cable channel, CCTV will add Arabic and Russian language services to the Mandarin, English, French and Spanish ones it already has, and from May the People’s Daily will publish an English-language version of its tabloid Global Times.
The expansion comes when Western commercial media are scaling down their own international coverage so there is a vacuum to fill. Beijing’s plan calls for more reporters, more bureaux and more outlets, but not necessarily more freedom to report. China’s press has increasingly been feeling if only occasionally pressing the edges of the envelope within which it operates, but three organziations getting the money are still state-run media in a country where propaganda is a term, as Variety puts it, “used without negative connotations”.
The primary task, though, is to present China to the world, not the other way round. The melamine tainted milk and other recent food and product safety scandals have shown Beijing that it needs to do more in that regard, and is a further sign of the country’s confidence in stepping out into the world on its own terms.
And those terms must be true, because we’ll have seen them on TV.