Alex Massie

Media navel-gazing

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Panorama tonight:

The Olympic Games are special. The biggest show on earth - with an estimated global television audience of four billion people.

But hosting the Games brings extreme attention and extreme scrutiny.

Chinese Premier Wen Jibao promised that foreign media would be free to report on Chinese politics, economics and society in the build-up to the Games, a pledge at odds with the Western perception of China as a restrictive and secretive state.

In Panorama: China's Olympic Promise, reporter John Sweeney sought to put this assurance to the test as he travelled across China following the path of the Olympic torch.

Well, fine. But there's something mildly grotesque about the notion that the foreign media's ability - or inability - to report freely in China is the biggest issue of the moment. Sure, it would be nice if that were possible, but there's a whiff of solipsism about this. I'd rather watch a programme, for instance, that looked at what the tension Chinese reformers - or reform-minded Chinese - may feel, caught as they are between, I imagine, wanting the games to be a great success (for reasons of self-esteem and national pride) and the fear, again I imagine, that a successful games may set back, rather than enhance, the prospects for reform and greater openess, bolstering the status quo and perhaps even emboldening the regime... I don't know any of the answers to any of this, but that would seem a bigger, more interesting issue than whether foreign journalists can move freely or access the BBC's website inside China...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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