China’s latest PR campaign in Malawi

A newspaper supplement from The Daily Times of Malawi

A newspaper supplement from The Daily Times of Malawi ran a twelve-page advertising spread entitled “50 Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet” on 7 April 2009. The ad was paid for by the Chinese Embassy in Malawi. The question remains whether the newspaper will publish news stories written by anyone, irrespective of truth or falsehood of the content. John Duffell/Malawi

By John Duffell | John Duffell

ON THE WEB, 8 April 2009

Yesterday, The Daily Times of Malawi ran a twelve-page advertising spread entitled “50 Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet.” To my eyes, this spread looked far more like editorial content &mdash a newsmagazine, perhaps. This illusion is aided by the statement, which appears on all twelve pages, reading “Supplement to The Daily Times.” In fact, this statement always appears inside the advertising content itself — usually incorporated into the headline artwork at the top of the page. At no point is there any indication of who wrote, or paid for, these twelve pages. It blends in so well with the surrounding editorial content, I myself was not aware that it was an advertisement at all, until I had almost finished reading it (in the header of each page, up in the corner, is the word “ADVERTISING” in block letters — you’d be forgiven for overlooking it).

I have scanned all twelve pages (each one in two parts, 24 scans overall) and I’m currently uploading them to my Flickr account here. For a little preview, here are the opening two paragraphs:

Tibet, located in southwest China, has since the ancient times been an inalienable part of China. Before the Democratic Reform in 1959, Tibet had long been a society of feudal serfdom featuring the despotic temporal and religious administration, a society which was darker and more cruel than the European serfdom of the Middle Ages. The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, and in 1951, Tibet won peaceful liberation. The Central Government was prudent with regard to the reform of old Tibet and adopted a tolerant attitude toward the local government of Tibet. With great patience and sincerity, the Central Government did its best to talk to the upper ruling class in Tibet and waited for it to conduct reform of the old system of its own accord. However, the reactionary clique of the upper social strata of Tibet tried to preserve for ever the feudal serfdom featuring temporal and religious administration, and in March 1959 launched an armed rebellion with the aim of tearing Tibet away from the motherland. The Central Government, with the support of the people in Tibet, dissolved the local government of Tibet which rode roughshod over the broad masses of the Tibetans and resolutely suppressed the armed rebellion. At this same time, the Central Government, responding to the will of the Tibetan people, implemented the Democratic Reform and abolished the feudal serf system featuring temporal and religious administration that had lasted for several centuries. During the Democratic Reform, one million serfs and slaves in Tibet won emancipation, Tibet entered into a new era of social development, and the Tibetan people stood up and came into their own. In order to mark this historic event, the People’s Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region decided on 19 January 2009 that 28 March, the day in 1959 the Central Government ordered the disorganisation of the local government of old Tibet, be the “Serf Emancipation Day” of Tibet.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Democratic Reform in Tibet, this photo exhibition is held to show its great cause and the changes that have taken place to Tibet over the past 50 years; it is also aimed at helping the international community gain a better understanding of the history and present situation of Tibet.

I have been told by the paper’s Advertising Manager that the Chinese Embassy in Malawi is responsible for the ad. I managed to contact the Managing Editor of the paper as well, and I asked him why they printed an advertisement designed to disguise itself as editorial content, and why, instead of clarifying that it was indeed advertising, the paper thought it necessary to incorporate their own logo into the layout of the advertising spread — thereby giving the impression that this advertising content was, in fact, approved by the Daily Times of being “worthy” of its brand. The managing editor insisted that the text reading “ADVERTISING” in the corner of each page provided all the necessary clarification.

When asked whether anyone who wanted could write up a news story — no matter its truth or falsehood — and run it in his paper as advertising, the Managing Editor told me no — there are standards in place, and each advertisement is carefully screened to see if it is worthy of being printed in The Daily Times. The Chinese Embassy’s advertisement, he said, passed this test.

At this point, he began to make some accusations. He accused me of trying to get him sacked from his job, of hating the Chinese, and of being from Tibet myself (though I speak with an American accent) — or being a covert agent of Tibet.

“Were you in China at that time [referred to in the ad]? How do you know what they were doing?” he asked me, more than once. He also told me “the Dalai Lama has had his own mishaps in the past,” citing as his one example the Dalai Lama’s recent denial of a visa by the South African government.

I’ll let you all be the judge of whether I am, in fact, a Tibetan agent. In the meantime, if you have something you’d like to say to the Editorial Office of The Daily Times, they can be contacted at [email protected]

Copyright © 2009 John Duffell Published in Duffell's blog Posted in News You Witness » Tags: , , ,