Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The ghost of Mexico City comes back to haunt Beijing

Stop me if you've heard this one before. An authoritarian one party state uses blunt military force to squash a popular uprising. Hundreds are killed or injured and the government fears that attempts to burnish its image abroad by holding the Olympic games will be tarnished by images of dead protestors splashed across the world's media.

40 years on the Chinese government cannot be unaware of the bloody precedent of the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico City when the army and police were used by the ruling PRI party to crush student protest just days ahead of the games in what later came to be called the Tlatelolco massacre.

With unrest in Tibet continuing and the Olympic flame the focus of protests in Greece this week it seems that history is indeed repeating itself. However, forty years on, in a world connected by instant TV coverage and wide access to the internet protests can be relayed around the globe in a matter of hours so giving ordinary people outside traditional media channels unparalleled access to information and a voice on the worldstage.

Attempts by the Greek state run TV channels to first ignore then play down the protest by the three French reporters at the ceremony marking the lighting of the Olympic flame proved ineffective when footage of the disruption, aired on foreign channels such as CNN and the BBC soon made its way onto Greek private channels and blogs.

While China still retains formidable control over what its citizen view on TV and the internet the up coming Olympic games will see this severely challenged, especially if there are protests over Tibet. As Tibet itself shows the Chinese attempts to control negative images and news coming out of the country are proving  much less effective than their Mexican predecessors.

In 1968 the true dimensions of what happened in the Plaza de la Tres Cultures were hidden from the world by the Mexican authorities to such as extent that the man responsible for an estimated 200 - 300 deaths, President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz was able to officially open the Games four days later.

It just may turn out the greatest threat to a Chinese PR triumph in August may not be the petrol bomb or  banner but rather the cell phone and the net.

Tags: | | | | |

No comments: