Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Coverage and Chinese Taipei

Are you like me? Have you been watching the Olympics? It has been on at our house a lot. And one thing I've been intrigued about is the existence of this new country I'd never heard of before: Chinese Taipei. My curiousity was piqued when I saw the flag (seen at right). This flag is clearly a stop-gap measure to leave us focussed on the sports rather than the issue.

So I did a bit of digging. Which of course means that I googled it and spent ten minutes on Wikipedia. (There is a reason I was given a "research skills" award by my school you know! By the way, I don't have to capitalize Google when I use it as a verb, do I?) Here's what I found out:

Apparently there has been a long and heated rivalry between the island we know as Taiwan and the mainland region we know as China. Officially, the latter wishes to be known as the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the former as---here's where it gets interesting---the Republic of China (ROC). They like to go by Taiwan, as well. This is their actual flag below:

It turns out that in the 70s the ROC was actually trying to claim governance over the whole of China. If I'm gathering it right, the contention was that theirs was the rightful "heir" to Chinese governance and Taipei was the rightful capital. This idea was rejected by the PRC, and ultimately also by the United Nations, and it has led to decades of back and forth on the actual identity of each. Most of us are ignorant of this, and simply know them as China and Taiwan. There is good reason for this. Taiwan operates like a country of its own in almost every way, except that the People's Republic of China is able to assert authority over it by strong-arming it diplomatically.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia: "The PRC refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the ROC, but does not object to nations conducting economic, cultural, and other such exchanges with Taiwan that do not imply diplomatic relation. Therefore, many nations that have diplomatic relations with Beijing maintain quasi-diplomatic offices in Taipei. . . .

The US, Canada, the UK, India and Japan have formally adopted the 'One China' policy, under which the People's Republic of China is theoretically the sole legitimate government of China. However, the United States and Japan acknowledge rather than recognize the PRC position that Taiwan is part of China. In the case of Canada and the UK, bilateral written agreements state that the two respective parties take note of Beijing's position but do not use the word support" (emphasis mine).

Officially the US and UK have stated that they wish for the PRC and ROC to resolve their differences peacefully, and by semantically skirting the issue they manage to stay relatively uninvolved. Interestingly, Vatican City is one of only 23 countries which officially recognizes the ROC. The others are all in Central America and Africa, and are likely able to do so because of their alignment with Catholocism, to which the PRC is already opposed anyway.

So there you have it. THAT is why in its coverage of the Olympics the CBC refers to Taiwan as Chinese Taipei. As Ron McLean said at the opening ceremonies, they do it "out of deference to China".

I don't want to pretend I know more than I do about this issue. Maybe the PRC or the ROC have a rightful claim. I don't konw. But what I do note is that our media, who are supposedly neutral observers, able to investigate and report freely, are joining the nations (who are probably right to stay out of it and be diplomatic) in skirting the issue, not reporting to us the facts, and simply going along with the economic powers-that-be. I've watched a lot of Olympics, and yet I had to go to Wikipedia to find out the truth. That's always a scary situation.

I don't want to overstate things though. The ROC has agreed to go with "Chinese Taipei" and to use this flag. The PRC actually wanted to call them "China's Taipei". But the ROC said they would immediately withdraw from the games publicly if this name was ever used at the games or on Chinese television.

By the way, Canada whoooped Taiwan in softball yesterday.


Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

You wrote,
“what I do note is that our media, who are supposedly neutral observers… [are] skirting the issue, not reporting the facts, and simply going along with the economic powers-that-be.”

I didn’t watch the program you did, but I’m guessing the reason they didn’t really talk about Taiwan in detail is that they were more interested (rightly) in discussing sports than politics. I imagine a program on the CBC about Chinese foreign policy would address the China-Taiwan situation with a lot more depth.

Speaking of controversial Chinese policies and the CBC: I saw a bit of Peter Mansbridge’s interview with the Dalai Lama shortly before the Olympics, and it sure didn’t seem like Mansbridge was “simply going along with the economic powers-that be,” -at least in regards to Tibet. His questions gave the Dalai Lama a lot of room to be very critical of China.

You’ve expressed skepticism about the CBC in the past, and while I guess vigilance is good, CBC seems to me like an odd target when compared to CTV and Global. I dunno.

Philbert said...

Perhaps Jon's concerns about the CBC, and the reason he leaves CTV and Global alone, is due to its very nature. CTV and Global are purely capitalistic ventures, while the CBC is supposed to be more journalistic and hardhitting, exploring subjects and materials that businesses avoid.

According to the 1991 Broadcasting Act...

"...the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;"

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

fair enough.

I've just gotten the sense (and I may be wrong) that Jon's got a particular beef with the CBC which, for me, is surprising because I find the CBC to be a generally quite good media organization (esp. CBC radio's national programming, which I adore).

Neil D. said...

Hey Jon...

I have known about this whole Chinese Taipei for sometime.
Most of my knowledge comes from a friend I had who was a fellow student of mine at BBC.
He was from "Taiwan" in his words.
And wished for a free and separate nation.

I must admit that over the years I lost contact with my friend and just recently regained contact with him. He living in Toronto now and has a family.

I was somewhat taken by surprise to see Chinese Taipei at the Olympic.
As they are not recognized in the same manner by all the major states of the world, the UN or even the Olympic Board.
All I know it is a very messy and dangerous situation that can heat up and explode at any time.
It is a situation that I feel no one fully understands, even myself.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

afterthought/tangent for Philbert:

Although CTV and Global are businesses, the reason the government allows them to broadcast -and thus have the opportunity for profit- is because they provide a public service: namely, the news. So I don't know that their broadcasting should necessarily be held to lower standards just because their bosses have a bottom line.

This is more than a little tangential, I realize.

I'm glad Jon is drawing our attention to Taiwan. I wrote a paper on Chinese-US relations last year that focused a lot on Taiwan, and it seems to me like it's a tragic area of ignorance for most Westerners.

Philbert said...


I do agree that Jon seems to have it out for the CBC. (He gave me an earful on the CBC when he saw me wearing a CBC t-shirt).

I think it would be great if the Global or CTV could provide quality journalism. But I don't believe any of us expects that from them. In my mind that cannot be provided by a company that exists solely for profit. Kind of along the lines of Manufacturing Consent, but a little less conspiracy theoryish.

jon said...

yeah, its sports-casting, so i don't expect them to do a full peice on chinese taipei every chance they get, and i think it is entirely defensible for them to use the name that the ROC itself agreed to.

also, i must say that i saw some peices by Mansbridge from China pre-Olympics that I thought were very good reporting.

my beef is more with Canadian/American journalism in general, which can be good and helpful, but which I don't feel like I can rely on to be so. I'm not sure if the CBC is any better than CTV or global, nor do I think I've given them a hard time. Way back I was all over CTV newsnet and a little while ago I made a minor complaint to CBC and was really impressed with their response, and said so. I also had lots good to say about their kid's programming.

I dont have a lot of love for journalism as is today (at least west of the BBC), but don't want to give them too hard a time on this one. But the olympics aren't just sports, they are politics, and big money, and it does speak volumes that china can get even overseas broadcasters to do it their way.

Thanks for keeping me honest though.

For the record, Philbert, i like your CBC shirt. I wish it was mine. Even though CBC makes some horrible TV shows.

jon said...

12 great things about the CBC (in no particular order):

1 - That they call it "The CBC"
2 - Ron McLean has to be the best sports anchor in the world.
3 - Steve Armitage commentating swim races. Oh, the passion. I think he should rent himself out to commentate track and swimming events for people. What joy he'd bring to people's lives.
4 - CBC Kids
5 - Hockey Night in Canada
6 - Ditching the HNIC anthem. Great move. (Judging from the anthem contest entries, however, I don't have high hopes for the follow up)
7 - The idea of The Hour. (I don't like the execution, but I used to, and I still like the idea).
8 - THe logo. Seriously. Great shirt Philbert.
9 - Free, clear, television. I haven't had cable in years, and I'm thankful for the CBC.
10 - Toronto FC games on Saturdays.
11 - Rick Mercer. There are some duds on that show, but by and large that guy is the real deal. Funny stuff. (Especially when you compare his one man show with the embarrassingly non-funny 22 minutes or Air Farce).
12 - CBC Radio, and CBC Radio 3.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


amen, amen, amen!

"my beef is more with Canadian/American journalism in general."

Yes, yes, yes.

I think I see where you are coming from, and I'm completely on board.

Tony Tanti said...

Thanks for bringing this stuff to light Jon. I knew a little about Taiwan previously but am intrigued to find out more now.

On the subject of journalism, I'm tempted to not go here because I have some strong opinions but... from a political perspective CBC covers politics quite poorly.

Don't kid yourselves about the public/private motivation difference, CBC's goal is ratings as much as the others and CBC Newsworld doesn't receive public funding. The CBC has displayed it's bias fairly transparently in the past with the best example here: http://www.canadafreepress.com/2006/media082406.htm

And this year more than one former CBC executive have taken a job at Al Jazeera, the Fox News of the Middle East.

Don't get me wrong, there are great journalists at CBC as well as CTV but our news in Canada is good only in comparison to the horrendous US media.

As for other programming, CBC is fine but I don't really ever watch it. I'm not entirely sure why public funding is needed to make bad tv shows but that's another topic altogether. Their radio is great. Jon, I agree with 2, 3, 5 and 7 but I disagree strongly with 6 and 11. Mercer doesn't do it for me and the HNIC song was used repeatedely online and outside of Canada without payment to it's composer who was right to sue them, and will likely win.

There ya go.

Philbert said...

okay, fair enough, Jon.

I shouldn't have used the statement that you "seem to have it out for the CBC". Your critique of them is probably based on the fact it is the channel you watch the most and you have given them credit where credit is due.

Although, I must say personally that I don't expect much from channels like CTV and Global. I think CBC has a better reputation and consequently should be scrutinized more.

I do question the idea that "our media, who are supposedly neutral observers, [are] able to investigate and report freely". Is that really a reality for any news organization? If so what is a good example of this?

Tony Tanti said...

philbert, from a political perspective there is a widely held belief that in fact CBC has a poorer reputation for impartiality. I'm not sure I understand your point about them needing more scrutiny, why shouldn't we expect the same from all news channels?

In CBC's defense though, their general news, especially foreign coverage, tends to be good.

I think you're right that the neutral observer thing is rarely true of any news organization, it is certainly their goal though and for many of them it is what they believe they are accomplishing.

My opinion is that tv is the worst place to get your news as it is image driven and ratings driven.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

I love CBC. A lot. But I think that love comes from the fact that I almost never watch television, so I'm not really up to speed on CBC-TV. My love comes from listening to national (NOT local) programming on CBC Radio -which is, perhaps, the best radio programming in the world ('Ideas,' 'The Arts Today,' 'Quirks and Quarks,' anything with Shelagh Rogers, Jonathan Goldstein, or Bill Richardson -the list goes on and on and on).

All this to say, it saddens me to hear that CBC-TV is not as good as CBC-Radio, or that they are perhaps guilty of a bias against the Conservatives (although, as a voter who tends to vote Liberal or independent I have some sympathy -ha!). It's disappointing.

jon said...

it is sad to me that our media is the way it is, because one of the things necessary for a democracy to work is an independent and reliable media. i don't think we're as far-gone as the States, but we don't have great political coverage.

as for other coverage, we're probably doing pretty good. i couldn't believe how much better the bbc was when i was in england. especially the contrast with CNN. it was unreal. i used to think that even if we had really good news coverage i wouldn't watch it. but then in england i couldn't stop watching the bbc.

mind you, they got all wrapped up in one story to the neglect of others, just like ours do. (when i was there it was the trial of princess di's driver, or something like that).

i agree with tanti: the fact of the matter that tv is not really the place to get news. i also agree with matthew that cbc radio is pretty awesome. and i also agree with your dose of realism, philbert: why am i even expecting any news organization to be even close to neutral? what gives me the idea that they ever would be?

if they have to make money just like anyone else, and if we are going to change the channel if they don't keep it moving, why should i expect anything but what we get?

i guess i just don't like it when they pretend to be something they are not. when things are said that are not the full truth, but are presented as such. that bugs me, in pretty much any context, but especially when you are calling yourself the best place for news and so on and so forth. i don't like being lied to. i hate that i'm always reading through spin in order to try to figure out what's going on.

(i'm talking about more than this chinese taipei thing by now, of course).

i kind of liked the concept of The Hour where you give the back-story or the bio for major current events before reporting the latest update. but the hour is mostly entertainment, and strombo's view of the world gets annoying. i don't mind mixing in some entertainment, and being real about who you are and what you like and admitting your biases (in fact i think this is a key to neutrality, admitting where you are coming from, right up front). but the hour deteriorated for me a year or so ago.

still: i DO want to know what is going on, and news should be news, whoever is proposing to report it. is that too much to ask?

we need our media to be good. we really do. this is a democracy. a good media is crucial. i'm not sure we have that, at least in terms of local affairs.

to be fair, i'm only remembering the crap at this moment. truth is there are lots of times when i'm watching the cbc (or others, but usually the cbc), and they pull off a great documentary or short segment on an issue and i feel truly informed and enlightened. so it's not all bad. i guess it is those moments when the spin and the images and the soundbytes all just seem emptier and more revolting.

jon said...

by the way, getting back to the olympics on cbc: while i've enjoyed having it on this week, i must say that the gymnastics commentating is seriously difficult to listen to. It is literally one mind numbing overstatement and cliche ambiguity after another. And then the other commentator repeats it using a few different words. It is truly incredible. If you could get a hold of the transcripts of this stuff it would be incredible to read.

but i digress.

three cheers for cbc!