As the Beijing Olympic Games approaches, the Chinese capital, willingly or unwillingly, finds itself being pushed more and more into the world's spotlight. Abundant publicity is probably what the host wants, but when it becomes extreme, it could be something more than what the host can deal with, especially when only the negative side is portrayed.
"So far as some media are concerned, we find we can do nothing right. 'You are wrong' is their mentality and that's their universal conclusion whatever you do or don't do," a press official of the Organizing Committee of the Beijing Olympic Games said to me recently.
"All we can do is to do our best to make the Games a success while neglecting rumors and groundless criticisms," the official said.
Her helplessness could be shared by all the former hosts of the Olympic Games during the preparation period and her attitude toward the criticism, let me say, is right.
Since the 1980s when the Olympic Games became a hot subject, all the host cities experienced the joys and woes Beijing is experiencing now. A city may have poured millions of dollars to upgrade its infrastructure, may have made great efforts to popularize the Olympic spirit, may have worked hard to ensure the city or even the country has a period of healthy development - but all this hardly gets the media excited.
I have been following or covering the Olympic Games since the early 1980s and I still have fresh memories of how Los Angles was criticized for its air pollution, Seoul for its traffic jams and Athens for its poor infrastructure. Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney were attacked for different reasons. Reading the newspapers and watching the TV programs, we sometimes could not help but wonder if the Games would be held as scheduled. Fortunately, they all started on time and ended successfully.
I have no intention to criticize my journalist colleagues regarding any of the Games. I believe they were trying to live up to the trust of their readers and viewers to ensure the Games become better and fairer. But when we look back at our past reporting, can we come to the conclusion that we, as the media, could have been fairer and better?
Beijing seems to have received more criticism than other hosts. Air pollution and traffic problems are the issues widely expounded by the media.
While some overseas media are demonizing Beijing's air pollution and traffic problems, Beijing citizens seem to be happy to get more days of blue skies each year as compared with 2001 when the city won the Olympic bid. As for the traffic, while about half a dozen new subway lines will be open to the public before the Olympics, the authorities are working out traffic control plans which, according to them, should ensure a smooth flow during the Games. Meanwhile, subway and bus lines have been added while fares have been reduced.
The Chinese capital would be lucky if criticism against it ended just there. Beijing has kept its promise to the IOC on press freedom, but some media seem to be asking the host to adopt freedom and democracy according to their understanding and explanation. When not satisfied, they threaten to call for a boycott of the Games.
Trying to politicize a sports event only does harm to the healthy development of the Olympic movement.
Beijing is in the spotlight, it is under the scrutiny of the media, its strong and weak points will be emphasized. My suggestion is: do not be complacent over success and do not be dejected over exaggerated problems. Keep working hard. The world expects a successful Beijing Olympics.
(China Daily 01/11/2008 page8)