Hu, Murdoch spar at media summit

Global news confab opens in Beijing with frank exchanges

BEIJING -- In an unprecedented exchange, Chinese president Hu Jintao and global media executives including News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch sparred in successive speeches on Friday, offering different views of the news media's role in society.

Hu, Murdoch and executives from Thomson Reuters, The Associated Press and The British Broadcasting Corp, among others, spoke to 300 global media professionals attending the inaugural World Media Summit.

Organizers at China's state-run Xinhua News Agency encouraged guests gathered in the Great Hall of the People to discuss ways global media might cooperate to overcome the recession as the industry shifts to the Internet.

Hu, adhering to the Communist Party's established belief about the media, said, "All media organizations should be dedicated to the lofty cause of pushing forward peace and development.

"This is the way the media can contribute to the recovery and healthy and stable development of the world economy," Hu said.

The party controls media in China, limiting access to news from foreign organizations and censoring domestically produced news it perceives as threatening to its control over China's 1.3 billion people--half of whom live poor in the countryside with limited Internet access.

Though China is set to overtake Japan as the world's No. 2 economy in 2010, reporting a bank run, for instance, is one of thousands of things Beijing labels a state secret, punishable by law if disclosed.

Meanwhile, Xinhua, led by its president Li Congjun, the former head of China's Central Propaganda Department, must compete with an increase in alternate individual views posted to the Web -- at least until censors sometimes erase them.

Murdoch, in his speech, urged China to take advantage of the Internet, saying, "The embrace of the digital age is as vital to China today as its decision 30 years ago to take its place in the global economy. The policy then was called 'the open door.' China now has a chance to open its digital door."

Schlesinger, editor in chief of Thomson Reuters, in his speech said he believed "journalism at its best is a mirror, exposing back to society a true and brutally honest picture of what is going on.

"When we fail at that, when our picture is not clear or at all distorted, we deserve to be criticized. We must strive to be that perfect mirror. But for societies and economies to truly work, to be effective and to be healthy, they need to look into that mirror unflinchingly and honestly," Schlesinger said.

Historically, many foreign reporters working in China are harassed while newsgathering and blocked from reaching sources whose views differ from those of the party. Whole areas of Tibet and parts of Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities clashed with Chinese police in March 2008 and July this year, remain off limits to foreign reporters.

BBC Global News director Richard Jeremy Sambrook said the U.K. government-subsidized news organization hoped China would allow "a fuller airing of the views of the Chinese people on the big global forces that are shaping our world."

Earlier, Hu moved to reassure guests that China would work with foreign journalists within the confines of Chinese law. Beijing, he said, would "continue to make government affairs public, enhance information distribution, safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of foreign news organizations and reporters, and facilitate foreign media coverage of China."

After his speech, Hu left the summit hall before the other speeches.

Murdoch, appealing to Chinese leaders on business terms, urged China to protect content copyrights since, he said, all consumers soon would have to pay for quality content.

AP chief executive Tom Curley told the room that theft of originally reported news would not be tolerated. Curley's message hit home in a country where news produced by foreign companies devoting great resources to its gathering often finds its way onto Chinese Web sites in translation without payment or credit.

"We will no longer tolerate the disconnect between people who devote themselves—at great human and economic cost—to gathering news of public interest and those who profit from it without supporting it," Curley said.  The AP is a New York-based, non-profit collective founded in 1856.
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