Xinhua sets World Media Summit

State-run news agency to host News Corp., AP execs

BEIJING -- China's state-run Xinhua News Agency hopes to draw leading international media executives and news editors into talks about the future of their business at a first-of-its-kind summit in Beijing in October.

Right after the week long Oct. 1 National Day holiday celebrating 60 years of Communist rule, Xinhua President Li Congjun will host an event organizers have dubbed "The Media Olympics" at The Great Hall of the People, the seat of the China's sole legislative body, on Tiananmen Square.

To its first World Media Summit on Oct. 8-10, Xinhua has invited News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, Reuters News editor-in-chief David Schlesinger and Associated Press president and CEO Thomas Curley, among others, to "focus on how world media will face up to the challenges and opportunities of the digital era and cash in on the network technologies," the event invitation said.

Plans for the summit stemmed from June 2008 discussions between Xinhua representatives and international media companies. Some overseas executives, who declined to be named for this story, said earlier plans for the event were made a priority after China suffered a series of setbacks to its image in foreign news coverage of riots in Tibet in March, disruptions to the Olympic torch's global tour in April and then the government's handling of the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit Sichuan in May.

The planned gathering for about 300 participants from 170 media organizations, including 40 from China, comes at a key moment for media in the one-party state, where publishers, editors and reporters can be punished -- even jailed and barred from work for life -- for content deemed critical of the government.

At a time when Beijing is pushing for the commercialization of state media and an expansion of its overseas operations, organizers listed eight topics for discussion at the summit on the event's Web site (www.worldmediasummit.org), including "Global media merging," "Traditional media via new emerging media -- competition, reliance, co-existence and development" and "Economic recession and media reaction."

Summit talks will also be held against the backdrop of the Aug. 12 decision at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, which ruled against China in support of demands by United States news organizations and other content publishers such as movie studios, that those groups be allowed to sell more directly to Chinese consumers.

Currently, providers of financial data such as Bloomberg and Dow Jones, the owner of The Wall Street Journal, must work with a former Xinhua official who recently transferred to a newly established office under China's cabinet, the State Council, if they wish to publish Chinese economic numbers key to their reports.

When it comes to news in China, particularly in this sensitive political season and difficult economic times, the arbiter of what's fit to print is the Central Publicity Department, said political scientist Anne-Marie Brady. The CDP, a body of about 300 senior Communist Party members who work in an unmarked building in the capital, ensures that Chinese media know -- often on a daily basis, through phoned and faxed directives to editors -- that "social efficiency is more important than economic efficiency," Brady said.

"If newspapers aren't allowed to report on a run on the Agricultural Bank of China, then that's too bad, because it's an issue of social efficiency, not about how many newspapers they can sell off of that particular article," said Brady, author of "Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China."

Liu Jiawen is a director of the Xinhua foreign affairs department organizing the summit. Liu said that because the issue of financial data distribution now sits with the State Council Information Office and the summit is intended as a forum "for media organizations, not government," he doubted the WTO decision would come up.

"I do not think this issue will be addressed so publicly at the summit," said Liu, who also works as a foreign languages editor at Xinhua's online news service, Xinhuanet.

The event's designated international co-sponsors with Xinhua, the summit "Secretariat," will include representatives from News Corp., Reuters, The AP, The British Broadcasting Corp., Japan's Kyodo News Agency and Russia's ITAR TASS News Agency.

Noticeably absent from the group whose logos adorn the summit Web site are Germany's Deutsche Press Agentur and the Agence France Presse. Both organizations were invited but declined to participate officially. Also absent from the sponsors list is the state-run television flagship, China Central Television.

Xinhua has offered to pick up the tab for overseas guests' food, transport and accommodation at the Beijing Hotel and Grand Hotel Beijing. Both sit on The Avenue of Eternal Peace just east of Tiananmen Square, where, on June 4, 1989, soldiers in China's army killed hundreds of Chinese students protesting for democracy, an event Xinhua has not reported for over 20 years.

Xinhua employs more than 16,000 staff in 33 bureaus in China and 108 overseas offices. Liu said he had discouraged Xinhua journalists who called him asking about the summit from writing about the event until all the details are confirmed.
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