I took part in a very interesting discussion during the final day of the Broadcast Education Association national convention concerning the 2008 Beijing Olympics and what changes might come to Chinese media and society as a result of the Games.
The panel included Dr. Anne Cooper-Chen (Ohio University) and Gary Swanson (Northwestern). Their first-hand experiences from working and living in China greatly enhanced the discussion, which focused on a variety of issues.
Gary spoke of the many interesting changes already taking place within Chinese society and how the Chinese government is working (struggling?) to deal with them. These changes include increasing Internet usage, international cable/satellite programming, and contacts with the West, among others.
Anne reviewed some of the recent news reports in the domestic Chinese media that have concerned the Olympics. Without question, there is a real effort underway to use the Games as a tool to increase nationalism and to show off the virtues of Chinese society.
I have never visited China, so I tried to tailor my discussion toward some historical events and some critical questions that might develop over the next year. Among the questions I proposed were these:
1. How will the Chinese respond to any so-called provocative action by or inside Taiwan...or inside China, during the Games?
2. What will happen to journalists who broach topics that the Chinese government has stated are not to be talked about in Chinese society? These issues include Falun Gong and human rights abuses, among others?
The panel (and the audience, which posed some very good questions) agreed that there were no simple answers or solutions to anything taking place right now in China. But we also agreed that the upcoming Games were both a great opportunity and challenge for the country, its government and its people to determine the kind of society that China will have into the future.