May 4th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The limitations of American power

When will John Howard step down?

BANKING: Kiwibank takes off in New Zealand

QLD: Philippines banana imports endanger Australian industry, wildlife

Straws in the Wind: Monocultured multiculturalism / Reporting China

LAW: High Court ducks IVF issue

ALP must put forward alternative program: Doug Cameron

Refugee stance defended (letter)

Banks' deceptive conduct (letter)

Tax holidays for multinationals (letter)

MEDIA: Shoot the messenger

The promise - and pitfalls - of free trade

What Gusmao's election means for East Timor

COMMENT: Holocaust taunts misguided

BOOKS: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg

Demons and Democrats: Kim Beazley's view

Books promotion page

Straws in the Wind: Monocultured multiculturalism / Reporting China

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, May 4, 2002
Monocultured multiculturalism

One of the few beneficial communications breakthroughs in recent times occurred this past week when, due to industrial action, the SBS evening news service was off the air; being replaced each time by the latest BBC news program.

One felt an immediate sense of relief. The BBC news programs that I watched were professional productions, but without the slick American corporate style of say, Deutsche Welle. Their presenters and secondary contributors are succinct, articulate and neutral in their body language and the organisation of their material.

The contrast with contemporary SBS could scarcely be more dismaying.

There is no presumptuous voice off screen, reinforcing the visuals, just in case we didn't swallow the bait. This unsolicited commentary is delivered in terms now didactic, now patronising; triumphalist when our economy takes a hit, or the Americans suffer a military setback, or embittered when words like "Howard", "the Monarchy", or "Liberal Party" are approached.

The BBC news program does not appear to need such archaic impertinences to present its work - the saints be praised. Nor depressed ventriloquist doll presenters and commentators going through the motions.

And, of course, the BBC service was, and is, about the world; not weighed down by the bleatings and importunings of local pressure groups, with vocabularies consisting of "shame", "more money"; "guilt", "world opinion". What would they know of world opinion? But whatever it is, why not share this knowledge, instead of us having to seek out overseas journals and electronic internet sources, to find out a fraction of what is happening?

Both programs interview experts, and important political actors - and the BBC contributors usually satisfy the criteria, whereas our ethnic somnambulist dredges that Saragossa Sea of Oz academia and left think tanks, usually coming up with strange sightless hack fish or giant toadies: semi-articulate, momentously uninformative, but doubtless someone's little pet. Or else, ex-judges, ex-Liberals, ex-diplomats, retrenched public servants, old soldiers never dying, one-dimensional economic experts.

I can think of few remedies for this blasted heath. Bob Hawke, early on, suggested merging SBS with the ABC. John Button thought that only "old Australians", and middle class ones at that, used it because they were too mean to pay to see all these foreign films in cinemas.

Only four per cent of us watch it - probably most unethnic, whereas over 25 per cent of us are overseas born. And few of the 130-150 ethnic communities seem to have a say. An expensive private party ... but a conduit for pressure group job applications and Left Labor propaganda.

Like Coode Island, little can be done, except keep it isolated from the main population centres. As to the News Service:

1) We could pay them to stay on strike or off air - and stick to the BBC.

2) We could put them on cable and pipe it free to RMIT, Wollongong University, Grollo House, Trades Hall and other centres of new age learning.

But keep the BBC.

Reporting China: appearance and reality

Many Australians have friends who have worked in the People's Republic of China, or have done business or tried to do business with the Mainland, not to mention all those Australian tourists.

On the whole, Western expert reports have proved strangely unilluminating, while at the same time soothing. Strangely, because many individual anecdotal accounts of people returning here seem to tell a different story. One of corruption, bureaucratic excess, bad loans, no reliable recourse to law; rising labour dissatisfaction and unrest, and the sheer difficulty experienced by many Westerners doing business in the Middle Kingdom. I'm not going to talk about pollution, environmental nemesis, cheap labour, and looming water shortages - or the execution rate.

Perry Link, a professor of Asian Studies at Princeton, helps to explain the gap between Western expert and Western anecdotal accounts of Chinese reality. He does this in the New York Review of Books (April 11, 2002).

He writes of the near total control and brainwashing of the Chinese population - now - which he regards as being more successful and in some ways more subtle, than anything the Soviets could mount. The generation of young middle class rebels of Tiananmen Square has nearly all disappeared into the New Class; having acquired a taste for American consumer goods, and culture, i.e., television; with little remaining appetite for standing in front of tanks, and even less felt need to do so.

The new status quo includes them, so most are content. (Same with New Labor, ours and Britain's).

The Party is still in power and intends to stay there - at any cost. Along with its equally corrupt People's Army. But wishing to trade with the West, to receive its loans and investments, more or less obliged to allow in foreign journalists and scholars; to exchange students and host foreign traders and bankers in their midst; along with the usual foreign economic analysts ... Beijing had a problem.

First, how to protect their own people from foreign evaluations of the true situation in their own country and then how to hoodwink the West as to how things really are in the New China.

Beijing is operating on a number of assumptions. One, there are enough foreign businessmen and corporations so keen to do business with, to invest in, the "last great untapped market", that they will supply whatever upbeat, even meretricious account of the Chinese economy and society to their Western compatriots so that they can gain acceptance and continuity.

Meantime, they would make their own private, and hopefully objective assessments, for their directors, bankers and fund managers at home.

Western journalists and academic researchers are given the same tacit and sometimes explicit demands from Chinese authorities to keep it clean and don't put down the wonderful story of the New China; otherwise, no accreditation, or blocked access to information and to Chinese politicians and academics, necessary for the depth or intellectual authority that their professions require.

As to analysts commissioned by Western corporations or investment groups, China is perfectly willing to compel critical reports be withdrawn or disowned by those who commissioned them.

As Link reports, when a leading international firm issued a financial report on the China Petro-Chemical Corporation, state-run and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, "Chinese officials found the report excessively negative and demanded an apology. Two executives of the investment firm, with the writer of the report unhappily in tow, travelled to Beijing to deliver it."

It would probably save time and money for Western firms, economists and journalists to ask the Chinese to write their reports ... themselves.

Gordon Chang, a long-time operator in introducing Western forms in China, has given up, citing the double-standards in Western corporate reporting, Chinese censorship and Western observers' self-censorship. These thoughts were included in a book he wrote in 1999, The Coming Collapse of China.

The contrast between what Westerners say in private and the "optimistic, bland and uninformative pronouncements for public consumption" about the Chinese economy, bureaucracy and the lot of the ordinary Chinese - eventually motivated Chang to drop the whole game and speak the truth.

We experienced a great deal of this disinformation and apologias regarded Indonesia, under the Labor Governments that have just passed - driven by their close connections with Suharto and his cronies and their rackets. This sweetheart system was shattered by Howard and East Timor, and many ALP and media participants in that charade will never forgive our Tories. Every now and then they tell us so.

As Link and Chang imply, the same two-faced reasoning used to justify our rich trying to sweetheart the fascists and Nazis - for profit - then Stalin's and Mao's crews after the war - not to forget the numerous Third World and Latin American dictators. Always for profit - their profit - not ours.

This is now being trialed in the New China - which, for its part, aren't giving an inch any more than did the others.

So unfortunately, Australians seeking to trade or invest or just make a political judgment should - when confronted with the latest news of China from our experts, corporate bosses and journalists - try to get at the source, the provenance and the motivations attached to these oracles and their utterances. Failing that: put your trust in God, and keep your powder dry.

* * *

We appear to be going through one of those periods when the cracks on the hard shell covering the operations of world capitalism and finance have widened to the point when we can see how some of these august institutions work, or don't work.

At present, some of them are performing badly, to the point where courts and regulatory agencies are being compelled to bestir themselves.

We see the Enron affair spreading and spreading; we are beginning to absorb the extent of the scandals and widespread malpractice within world auditing and accounting.

Then there is the most serious state of affairs in the world insurance industry. Additional areas of financial turpitude are being exposed almost daily - overseas and here.

Thus the AP news service tells of a demand by New York's Attorney-General Spitzer for a court order, after ten months investigation showed that Merrill Lynch employees lied to clients and recommended stocks that they knew were probably bad investments.

Mr Spitzer said that Merrill Lynch pushed certain stocks even after it had received poor ratings from its own research analysts ... because the firm wanted to keep the companies' lucrative contracts for investment banking services.

It is the analysts' research and ratings which most investors use in making their investment decision.

New York investigators were able to obtain memos and emails showing that Merrill Lynch analysts, whose research was supposed to be independent and objective, were, in effect, acting as salesmen for client companies.

Merrill Lynch, a venerable firm, has 900 offices in 43 countries, including Australia, and manages more than $2.87 trillion.

Mr Spitzer said he didn't know how much money customers had lost, but he believed clients "numbered in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions".

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