Western Media in Beijing Olympics

In 1896, the organizers of the Olympics had to beg the media to come and cover the event. The journalist had to be treated to a banquet as honored guests. By 1996, the tables had turned as media lined up to pay close to 900 million dollars to be allowed to cover the event. Conventionally, media and Olympics have been viewed by many experts as two organizations that share a symbiotic relationship.

The relationship has developed over time to be very complex as the Olympics have grown larger with time. When the Olympics were going to Beijing, it was a unique chance for media houses to show their might through innovative coverage of the event. The western Media joined the rest of the world in covering the event not only for the Beijing locals who preferred following the proceedings from their houses but for the international viewership that were unable to meet the logistical challenges to be physically in the Olympics.

China is both a promising and baffling market for the media. Just the same way the government rigorously regulates the banking sector; the media is closely monitored or even controlled by the government. This notwithstanding, the local media have thrived mainly due to the ready market that China offers. The government came up with a legislation in 2001 that was geared at regulating the media practices. Many external observers viewed this as a way of making the third estate a toothless dog.

The Chinese government knows well the impact of the media and they are not too willing to make the media enjoy the freedom that the west allows its media to enjoy. This may explain why the government produces over 1,500 “sponsored” magazines for the government. The international media that broadcast in the country like CNN have to be subjected to thorough scrutiny that some people think that the editors have no control to what they broadcast.

However, as the times elapses, it is becoming apparent that the western media is continuing to influence the local media to a great extent. In fact, observers believe that the Chinese media is constantly trying to ape western media like ANC or CNN. The internet has been one of the greate3st pushers for reform since it is not that easy to have regulation on the internet content viewed by the millions of people in China. The dilemma that the leadership of China has is that it wants to have a very robust Media to help check the government and public yet it is afraid of the potential for inflammatory coverage that could easily incite the public.

Media has been known to take advantage of any opportunity to make their opinion on other sideshow issues. For instance, the Beijing Olympics was the main reason why the international media congregated in Beijing. But coverage of the games was not the only thing that was on the minds of the media houses. The culture o the Chinese was broadcast to billions of people the world over. Investigation into the rich heritage and history of the Chinese was unearthed. The beautiful mountains, rivers and other physical scenery were captured. The cuisine of the Chinese was sampled by many a reported as the viewers salivated thousands of miles away which inspired in them a desire to visit China. The western media can be commended for using the Olympics to boost the tourism sector of china.

However, the absolute freedom that the western media is used did not go too well with some of the officials. The media was accused of meddling with the government instead of concentrating on what exactly took them to Beijing.  The press had taken some time to cover stories that outlined the political landscape of China.

China has one official TV network (CCTV) which is viewed as the most important TV station in China. The station has sixteen other television channels that reach most of the homesteads. However, even though it is the most powerful station in China, it is interesting to note that only thirty percent of the population actually watches the programming. This again, is thanks to the western media. One measure that was taken by the government to try to salvage the situation was a ban of foreign animation programming between five o’clock on the evening and eight o’clock in the evening to try and boost their local content.

Negative Effects of Western Media

while the Olympics was an event that was welcomed to Beijing by  everybody in government as it would boost their trade to a great extent, the government was weary of the influence that the foreign media would inevitably have on the local people especially those that were literate. The learned class in mainland China has continuously pushed for a freer media citing the west as their reference. Terms that have been used by those pushing for reform include media freedom, Political pluralism and freedom of speech. To help fuel the discussion is the new breed of  journalists who acquired their degrees In journalism in the west and their interaction with the media of the west makes them feel there is a lot to be desired back home.

When the western media pitched camp in Beijing for a good number of weeks, it gave the people with the reformist agendas even more meat to bite. It is believed that most of the locals preferred watching the western media coverage of the Olympics as they thought that the western media had more comprehensive coverage of the entire event. Furthermore, they were assured of being told the truth unlike watching the state controlled media houses.

Traditionally, Media has been seen as the third estate as a result of the four main functions that it has. The media is expected to inform, to persuade, to entertain, and to educate. A line that has not been very well established is the line between the informing and the entertainment especially when the event in question is something like the Beijing Olympics. The result is that journalists resort to the myth making approach so as to come up with a story that is unique from what the rest are covering. One of the negative impacts of this is the “problematizing of the Olympics”.

When, simple incident like a lady’s hand bag being snatched just as she tries to make entrance into the stadium happens, a curious journalist can easily blow it out of proportion in a story aimed at establishing whether the Olympic Games had enough security for the people that were in attendance. The concept of bad news selling more than good news doesn’t help either. If the journalist lacks some bad news in the stadium, he goes combing the city to find some bad news and as was the case in china during the Olympics, there was too much digging to be done. 

Many times, this myth making approach of journalism make the journalist who is eager to make a juicy report come up with a myth that is not factual and one that sheds the host in bad light. This was the case when hordes of media houses expressed their concerns right form the onset that China’s contractor was going to slow in preparing the “bird” stadium which was to be one of the most important venues of the Olympics. Would the contractor finish the job in good time? Would the job be well done or will it be done in a hurry thereby resulting in a shoddily done stadium? What about the transportation system of the country? Would it be reliable to take people to and fro from their hotels to the stadium and back?  And the hotels…were the accommodation good? And was it sufficient? This are some of the rhetorical questions that were raised especially be the western media prior to the Olympics.

While it may be argued that they were important sentiments to put the entire event in perspective, it can also be seen as negative reporting, a view that the Chinese government had concerning the western media. When the Olympics finally kicked off, the journalist had his antenna high to catch wind of any sideshow that could make a good story. When there was a shooting, everybody temporarily forgot about the Olympics. The different reports were doing their different analysis of the incident. While a couple showed that it was just one of those incidents that could be isolated, many raised the question whether security was sufficient for the fans. It is a question that probably made some people to decide otherwise about going to the games to watch the games live.

Positive Effects of Western Media

The presence of western media in the Beijing Olympics had a hugely desirable effect on mainland china. One of the most important of the impacts of western journalism is that China was showcased to the rest of the world. Most of the stations Like CNN and ABC were being received via satellite and via internet streaming not only in America but almost on every part of the globe. This is a feat that could not be attained by the state owned CCTV. By so doing, the media helped open up the country for future tourism. Many people the world over that probably had not seen China before now had a rough idea of the experience that China offers to her visitors. IN fact, it is reporters that tourism went a notch higher following the Beijing Olympics. The culture of the Chinese was short in documentaries and relayed on the different channels and this helped boost the tourism sector.

The western media made use of sophisticated equipment to cover the Olympics. Satellite pictures were used to capture the athletes at angles that the normal camera would not manage to. Analysis of the ratings and scores was done by use of advanced information systems that not only employed techniques of manipulating the data graphically but they used recent technologies like touch screen interfaces to make the analysis in real time and captivating to the viewer. This helped the local media houses of China to learn a few things about integration of ICTs in media production.

The western media and indeed the other international media covered the events live from the stadia. Due to the satellite imaging and the powerful equipment that media houses like ABC used in the coverage of the event, it became even more exciting to follow the events form the comfort of ones living room rather than going to the overcrowded stadium. In fact, there were some foreigners who came all the way to Beijing for the Olympics only to remain in their hotel rooms to follow up on their television screens.

This live coverage was important for China. Being an industrial nation, there were many people who had no chance to attend the event as they had to be on duty. However, they were able to follow up on the proceedings during the coffee breaks and the lunch breaks. The screens that are used for advertisement in the city’s streets become broadcast areas for the pedestrian to catch a glimpse of the happening at the stadium as they shuffled past headed to their work places.

The western media helped a great deal in making the Beijing Olympics an international affair. Many people receive the signal of CNN, ABC, FOX and other eminent media houses via cable, internet or satellite from all over the world. Even though it might have been logistically impossible for many people to attend the Olympics in person, watching the games live from their television sets made the different people feel part of the event that was happening in Beijing.

The overall effect of the presence of the western media can be seen as the Shanghai media owners went into an ambitious exercise to reorganize their media both print and electronic. Although it is not clear what informed the decision; it can safely be assumed that it was the impact of the western media that had revealed its might during he games. Unlike Beijing, Shangai is more receptive to the influences of the west in the different aspects of life as can be seen not only in the wide use of the English language, the widespread presence of MacDonald’s fast food outlets as well as diverse western related cultures. The deputy director of Shangai press, Mr. Zhu, is on record saying that the restructuring of the media would include investing more in coverage of news events in the print as well as the electronic media.

Analysis of the Coverage

As early as 1932, Olympics had become one of the most desirable events to cover. A recent poll done by the New York Times on the news reporters and columnists preferences revealed that over fifty six percent of the reporters would prefer to cover the Olympics as opposed to any other sporting event on the sporting calendar of that year. That would explain the avalanche of media witnessed in Beijing. The different media houses that were present to cover the event like FOX, CNN and ABC were clearly not going to take money down the drain. The analysis of the games was timely and comprehensive and it gave the viewer the feeling that he had been in the stadium the whole day.

Mackenzie Frost, an Alabaman dweller is a lover of athletics but he could not afford to travel especially in light of the recent economic down turn of the American economy. He had been saving to go to the Olympics in person but had to change his mind since he needed to attend to more pressing billings. He was left with the option of following up the proceeding from his television. “I loved the coverage by ABC and CNN.”  He said. “The whole time, I dint feel like I missed the Olympics. It was like I was there the whole time.”

Frost speaks for many other fans that enjoyed the coverage from their respective countries. But perhaps the most interesting account is that of Mike, who had gone to Beijing to attend the Olympics in person. He was preparing to leave his hotel room when the commentator of the ongoing events comes on the channel he was watching. He sat down to watch and be fore he knew it; he had spent the entire time in his hotel room watching TV! When asked why, he says that while the stadium experience could not be equaled due to the energy that comes from the fans that have come for the event, the analysis that the media gives during the live presentation were so informative. This kind of analysis can not be gotten in the stadium as all that interests the fan in the stadium is the excitement elicited by the feats of the athletes.

Different media houses made use of sophisticated equipment in the coverage of the Beijing Olympics. Satellite pictures were used to capture the athletes at angles that the normal camera would not manage to. Analysis of the ratings and scores was done by use of advanced information systems that not only employed techniques of manipulating the data graphically but they used recent technologies like touch screen interfaces to make the analysis in real time and captivating to the viewer.

The importance of the internet in the covering of the events can not be ignored. It is recorders that over 250 million people in china use the internet. This in mind, the media houses were well aware that a vast majority of the viewers that they would reach would be via internet. The IOC had previously tested a “Video on Demand” protocol during the 1998 Nagano Games. The protocol was designed to allow the users to access broadcast footage of sports over the internet. However, the system was not put to use in the following year’s Olympics.

Riding on this system, some of the media like CNN allowed the users to access the footage from their official website.  The website also allowed the different users to also post footage in a social environment where pictures and video recordings of the fans were also posted and different users analyzed the footage and the images that had been shared by the different fans. This interactive experience attracted many users to the website as their preferred option to follow up on the events that were happening at the stadium.

The Contrasts

As early as a hundred days before the Olympics kicked off, a couple of the western media correspondents were weary for their lives had been threatened. Even though legislation aimed at making the foreign journalists do their work without the interference of government had been introduced in 2007, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) reported many incidents of journalist who were prevented from carrying on wit h scheduled interviews. Some were detained and their equipment taken away from them Most of these victims were subjected to all forms of inhumane treatment. It is interesting to note only international journalists were targeted while the local journalist continued with business as usual.

Just one day into the Olympics, there was a murder of an American in Beijing. Bachmann Todd was the father-in-law to the coach of the men’s volley ball team.  Needless to say, the story was the lead story for CNN, FOX, ABC and most of the other international media including BBC. The different journalists engaged in detailed investigative journalism to try and unearth not only the timeline of the death but the circumstances that led to his murder. For the entire of the second day of the Beijing Olympics, the games were downplayed by most of the western media in light of the murder report.

While this was unfolding, the Chinese media remained conspicuously dumb one the subject. As Bandurski observed, there was no newspaper that carried the story and only the online users of the vast population in china had the chance to come across the story. The QQ which is China’a largest portal, which was possibly the only website with the story, didn’t think it was a big story and they only provided a link to the story that was hidden in the cluster of some “more important” stories. It appears that the Chinese media had been ordered to highlight only the positive stories of the Olympics so as not to ruin China’a moment of glory with bad news.


From time immemorial, the Olympics and the media have shared a symbiotic relationship. This relationship was put to test in the Beijing Olympics due to the stringent government regulation of the media. The Chinese government is eager to have a free media but at the same time, the government is afraid of the negative impact that a free media could have. While the media in China has not been entirely gagged by the government, it still remains a long way to go in comparison to the autonomy enjoyed by the western media.

Western media has been shaping the Chinese media whether either directly or indirectly.  Most of the local Chinese stations are reportedly trying to ape the turned that have been set out by such stations like CNN and ABC. The influence of the west is further felt in the fact that most of the new generation journalists working in china received their college education in America where they experienced a free media environment. This fired up in them a desire to go back home and champion change in the media environment.

The presence of the western media during the recent Olympics has gone a long way in helping the Chinese media adopt the reforms that they need. One of the most evident impacts is the changes that were effected by the Shaghai press after the Olympics as they realized the importance of spending more resources on sports coverage. The western media also helped to open up the mainland china for tourism as they showcased the beautiful natural attractions as well as the different rich cultural heritages of the Chinese people. However, the western media was largely condemned for meddling in the affairs of the government by reporting on some issues like political governance structures when t hey were supposed to be covering the Olympics.         

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