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Mayer-Kuckuk speaks on international journalism today

Peking University, May 27, 2013: A Beijing-based German journalist believed that the image of China is greatly distorted by foreign media, but lots of complex, interacting reasons are behind the scene.


"Media in general, especially Western media that are commercially driven, are not reporting in a fair and balanced way on anything," said Finn Mayer-Kuckuk, China correspondent with Handelsblatt, a German business daily.


"For example, our newspaper almost only reports about negative stuff... because bad news is of course 'good news,'" said the journalist with the German equivalent of The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times. "The reporting on China is not an exception."


Speaking at the Lecture Series of Peking University News on May 24, Mayer-Kuckuk believed that some editors at Western media have certain, stereotyped clichés and thoughts about China. “What's even worse, they think their readers have certain expectations and [the editors] want to meet these expectations. So they are especially ordering or promoting pieces on more evil [aspects], portraying China as more evil and dangerous,” he said.


“Sometimes in order to make a juicy story, correspondents leave out the other part of the fact” and elaborate on a certain aspect, said the 38-year-old journalist.


“Both ‘negative and positive’ distortion can be produced” due to the chief editors’ thoughts or moods, “interactions between correspondents and editors” that are not so smooth, or “just the headlines that make a wrong impression,” he added.


But Mayer-Kuckuk expressed his optimism: “China as an important country with its current strength and self-confidence” can endure these situations.


"Sometimes I got the impression that some Chinese people are overly angry about the way China is displayed in foreign media," said he. "It calls for people’s rationality and patience instead of anger to clear up misunderstandings."



Finn Mayer-Kuckuk (Photo/Wu Cuiting)

>> Click to listen to the audio of the seminar


Legal framework in China insures the foreign correspondents a privileged position compared with their Chinese counterparts, according to Mayer-Kuckuk. But as for the actual enforcement, things turn out to be different from the central to the local. “In a lot of provinces, the local authorities don’t know the more open framework at the national level; sometimes reporters would be pressured there because of reporting troubles.”


“China has a very active and vibrant media landscape,” said Mayer-Kuckuk who listed a number of information channels for expat journalists. “Talking to people personally,” “picking up gossips from Chinese friends,” “formal interviews,” and “academics at Chinese universities” are also approaches to clues for "good stories.“


Due to the different political system and cultural environment from European countries and the US, there were problems of “finding good interview partners in China,” admitted Mayer-Kuckuk, “In a society that has not been a ‘media society’ for so long, sometimes, talking to the media is not the priority.”


As for dealing with the politically sensitive issues, he criticized the authorities for trying to restrict the freedom of correspondents under certain circumstances, as these evasive actions would “sometimes result in an even more distorted image.”


Mayer-Kuckuk worked as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo before moving to Beijing three years ago. When comparing working conditions in Japan and China, he commented that “in China, everything is moving, very lively,” and more people are willing to talk to foreign media than that of Japan.


“But opportunities of high-level interviews are hard to get in China,” he believed that Chinese political and business elites need a more open gesture and “help to shape a positive and true picture of China.”


“The more information journalists get, the more aspects we can report about, and the better is the picture,” Mayer-Kuckuk said.



Reported by: Li Wenrui

Edited by: Jacques