By Richard Lutz
Two Chinese faces peep out from the front pages of the papers this week: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and activist Ai Weiwei.
The politician is visiting Birmingham this weekend to drum up some business and the latter is the artist (he designed the Beijing Olympics main stadium) who had been in prison, uncharged, for 11 weeks for talking about civil rights and only recently been let out… coincidentally just before this trade mission to the UK..
The contrast can’t be more graphic. And Dave Woodhall, on this site, has carefully listed the human rights critics who’ve been put in the slammer by China over the recent past because they had the temerity to say what they believe.
So, let’s take a look at the local media and see how they profiled the impending visit. First, to the august pages of the Birmingham Post. It has slavishly reported the news that the Premier lands here this week end. He is going to do this, do that, take a peek at Longbridge, maybe drop a hint about Chinese financial muscle getting involved in the hi speed rail link to London.
But not a word about Ai Weiwei or other appalling transgressions the Chinese government has accomplished during its fast track to economic growth. Even the editorial for this sad wreck of a newspaper doesn’t even hint at the thuggish behaviour of China’s internal police.
And as for Cllr Whitby and his boys, it’s all about our pals the Chinese as they begin to gobble up the remains of this city’s industrial past.
On to tv and on Central News earlier this week, the visit was also mentioned. A reporter was outside Longbridge with Ed Balls. The reporter did mention civil rights and Balls did a marvellous swerve around the question with that smug smirk of his. His remark, which completely avoided the simple question of how to deal with the Chinese shackling of civil rights, ignored the question. Instead he babbled on about having to make compromises when it comes to making money.
In other words, he is as conveniently and politically amnesiac about China’s record as Whitby, The Post and other sycophants drooling over Beijing bucks.
The interview was heavily edited so maybe the tv journalist did say something to the effect of ‘…could you answer the question I just put to you please…?’
But probably she didn’t. She asked the question the newsdesk requested and then moved on.
Both media organisations failed this city. One ignored crucial legitimate queries about trucking with thugs. And the other tamely put a question to a shadow cabinet member- basically a meaningless politician without power- and then moved on.
It is vital that Premier Wen Jiabao is made to face stiff criticism. I doubt Mr Whitby nor his colleague in the coalition Cllr Tilsley will grill him about anything outside of industrial investment.
Yes, all nations must inevitably deal with dubious regimes. But that doesn’t mean the uncomfortable questions are to be ignored- especially by a free media.
After Birmingham, the premier heads to Stratford because of his admiration for Shakespeare. There he may want to dip into some of the playwright’s works to see what happens when leaders trounce on the freedoms of citizens and ignore fundamental rights. Shakespeare was pretty good at looking at these real issues. Better, anyway, than the city media and the city leaders.