The First Amendment; Loren Gigliono
The First Amendment and a free people weekly examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s produced by WGBH radio Boston in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. The host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Reuben.
What's going on in China today especially what's going on in China today. Seen with the perceptive eyes of a veteran newspaper man. My guest I'm very happy to say today is Lauren Leoni the editor and publisher of the evening news in Southbridge Massachusetts and a founding officer of the national news. His study evaluating the press which was the report of the New England daily newspaper survey won for him the national Sigma Delta Carr award in 1974 for research about journalism he's a have a food car college graduate as a master of Urban Affairs from Yale University a doctor of jurisprudence from there and a Ph.D. in American civilization from George Washington University. He just returned from China where he was a guest along with 18 other news people who belong to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. A guest of the Chinese government for three weeks. I guess the first question that I should ask you Lauren is what was your first impression as you arrived in fabled China that so many Americans have not been able to go to.
Well I suppose the riving in Peking in the airport you see the massive posters of chairman and chairman Mao and you're told not to take photographs at the airport of course all of us are taking photographs like crazy because it's it's it's a striking you're entering the People's Republic of China and everybody wanted to capture that moment I suppose or sort of three impressions you.
You have a sense of the tour and it is a government tour is it is a very controlled affair. Well you are free to roam the city that you are in walking around early in the morning before they get you going on their tours. They keep you busy. And they know well that you were cut off from the people by language. By the fact that you are so different physically in that you can be spotted anywhere in a crowd.
And so there is a sense of isolation from people even though they are all around you. The other impression that's very strange for a reporter is that you are an observer but you are always being observed you are a curiosity yourself and that's that makes for very strange situations. And third as that the country seems to be in tremendous motion.
Wherever you go they are building factories in the communes. And while the pace may not be what it would be in the West because of the lack of mechanization Nevertheless you get a sense of purpose and urgency about the country.
When you first arrived were you in effect turned over to newsmen representing Chinese news organizations.
Yes although there were guides guide interpreters from the foreign ministry. But you have to remember that when you're talking about when you're talking about newspaper people in China you're really talking about government officials or government workers the way you might be talking about bureaucrats and in this country the press is a party organisation and its function is for propaganda.
And and I think they way in which you are handled is an indication of what the whole purpose of your visit as far as the Chinese government is concerned.
Well I'm very curious to see knowing how they handled you what did they want to show you what did they want to impress you with. Let us say in the first city of your three seven city tour.
Well I think they've become more sophisticated in how they handle visitors at first. They wanted all questions written out in advance briefings and and they were much more careful about controlling where you went. Now I think they have learned that Americans are perhaps a strange breed in that they take offense at this and so they were I think careful the other way to give us as much sense of freedom as possible. For example when you enter the country you're supposed to list all the money you're coming in with and at the end you're supposed to report all you spent and then you go out with they waves that. They say there was little sense of their their presence when you were not on tour. So I think they made they made an effort there.
They're getting more they're becoming more sophisticated in how they handle foreigners because you are an elite gatekeeper group and they they know that and they're trying to impress you and they're trying to establish collateral. Negotiations with you as evidenced by the fact that you met some of their people just before you left dinner and at other times here in Massachusetts did you know.
That's right and I think the Americans were kept asking about the possibility of the wire services establishing bureaus in Peking and the Chinese kept putting us off by saying well when normalization comes all of a hinted that there might be not that might not be totally required. I mean the basic message was that that these news considerations were tied to political considerations.
Now that brings up a question I have is the American press geared up or ready to cover the China story if it were suddenly made possible for them to have the wire service facilities suddenly became possible for a ground station to be available to them for the transmission for satellite radio or television. Are they ready or would they would be they be surprised after all of these years and and start to do the planning after the fact.
Well I think you have some trained people in Hong Kong right now Fox Butterfield of the New York Times and Linda Matthews of the Los Angeles Times. Jay Mathews of The Washington Post some of them speak Chinese have studied the culture and civilization. And they feel that even though they themselves have not been in the country for that long I think Fox Butterfield has spent one week out of three total of three years as the New York Times China watcher inside China. But I think they feel that they can almost do a better job outside of China because of the sources of information they have available to them in terms of émigrés coming from people coming out and and businesspeople going in than if they were in station in Peking there are some there are some correspondents in Peking and I if you were to generalize I think you'd say that their coverage is less pointed than the coverage by people who are already stationed in Hong Kong so I think the major dailies would be able to cope with this and the new services if they could have the people in Peking.
And yet if you read somebodies work like Ross to realize a great China expert he has his fine book things called flowers on an iron tree. He's a guest previously talking about a later book of his on this program and he pointed out in flowers on an iron tree that the five cities he visited on a trip in 1970 the 6 or 5 were each essentially different and that there were many China as we think of China as one place now did you get the impression of China being all sorts of cultures as you traveled around the seven cities.
Yes and certainly in the food you eat and the languages that were spoken were very different. And remember that the places they are taking editors and other people foreign friends as they describe them. Are the cities generally.
I don't think there was one city perhaps of less than a million population but we visited cities of tremendous population 80 percent of China's population is in rural areas so obviously we were not seeing all of China we weren't even seeing a partial part of it. And the other thing is that we were not experts we were this is our first. For most of us the first visit to China some people had been there maybe three or four times dating back to the 40s but few of us had expertise and I think that that's something that they were certainly aware of.
Was there any controversial matter that came up after all your 19 people of the American press. I'm sure sooner or later you all got around to asking questions as you became old China hands about six or seven days into the trip.
Well I don't think there was anything particularly controversial the one of the editors wrote a letter to the editor of The People's Daily which is the national paper of about six point two million circulation. And it was printed during the during our stay so everywhere we went people asked for Bill block of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette he was a national He was a celebrity of us and more famous in China than he was in the United States.
Occasionally there would be an incident where one at a post office a woman came up and hugged one of the editors and the Chinese officials were very embarrassed by all of this. They I think they felt when they lost total control of a situation that somehow that that was that was a problem that they they had to deal with. Once I asked about the leisure lee pace of work in a factory and that seemed to start the manager of the factory off on a tirade about the Gang of Four which was a common subject for attack.
And they I think they they they were willing to show us places where they were not succeeding but one when the topic of the failure of a particular factory or commune came up I think they do think I'm a bit nervous.
I gather from what you say that there wasn't too much newspaper talk that went on or perhaps there was were you able to speak across a dinner table with somebody and discuss common problems or the commonality of yes we did talk newspaper or talk with a lot of the editors and there were a number of common problems in fact.
If you look at the press and you could read it I think you would you would be. Aware of at least four sort of similarities right now. First there's a concern about grabbing the reader. They're writing less charged Lee and more concisely than they ever have before. There's a greater use of photos of people's dailies using for color photos now and some of the provincial editors that talked with me over dinner were asking me about how we used four color obviously thinking about themselves.
Second there was investigative reporting often in response to letters to the editor where they would send out reporters and find out why the buses weren't running on time or if indeed a commune worker or accountant was stealing money. Third letters to the editor were very popular and emphasized by the government something only they wanted to encourage although they're different they perform a different function they are a control watching what's going on in the provinces. And as a sort of feedback on how the message is getting out the government message is getting out to the people. But of course there is. And the fourth thing is that they are now publishing things that are critical of the government. William Hinton had to for example was quote critical of Chinese agricultural practices while we were there. But of course the papers are really very very different. Emphasize the propaganda there they are a propaganda organ. And perhaps that's why really the most popular publication in terms of circulation is not a newspaper as such but it's called reference news. It reprints articles from western publications in news services. It has a circulation of 9 million and it goes out to government workers of various kind they receive at their home or office. And it's sort of a second version of what's going on often you'll get articles in there for example about the can't the Sadat begun Carter meeting. That coverage there that you will not get in the People's Daily that's terribly interesting.
Could you do a little bit more on this investigative reporting because obviously this is a manifestation of the new regime and invites human toll. But. Do you think that this is something that they're experimenting with or is it something that they're going to stay with. It's obviously a major policy decision for them to let some of the laundry be soiled and shown to the public.
Yes I I don't I think it's serves their purposes I don't see it as any sort of long range change toward a more open Western press that I think we'd be fooling ourselves to believe that.
But it does serve again as a device for for control for giving the people the appearance or the feeling that they that the government is responding to them you see the Chinese government has a problem they have a great bureaucracy that has watched the pendulum of political. What is political in swing one way and then the other and I think that has made them decide well the safest course is not to move very far either left or right with with whatever political faction is in control and therefore it leaves the people below the bureaucracy without any sense that the bureaucracy is really listening to them. And so the people the letters to the editor and the investigative reporting are a device to sort of short circuit go around the bureaucracy and establish a report between the government and the people.
So I guess again I think it has a limited purpose and I don't think it's because they've accepted western values of an open society.
How did you travel between cities did you fly. Did you go by train.
Well we went every which way.
There was a two and a half day boat ride down the young sea river which was perhaps the most moving experience of our three weeks. There was an overnight train there were there were planes were certainly they do not maintain the kinds of safety standards that we are used to in the United States. Overhead racks were filled with heavy bags and typewriters the tires were bald. If anybody leaned back in the chair in front of you you found that your knees were in your mouth. It was it was an interesting way of traveling and getting some sense of the people. China moves on foot or on bicycle generally and in Peking For example there are two million bicycles and you see very few cars except for the cars that are used by the government officials and foreign travelers.
You river traffic train traffic is much more important than road traffic where you are drops of oil really floating on a sea of water. Congealed in your own little chemistry and observing everything from the edges of each little drop. Was there anything in particular that you yourself saw Lauren that that was either a shocker or a surprise or something that you you took home with you and told your wife and family and said Do you realize that thats such and such is the way things are done or this is the way people live or this is what has to be contended with. But anything in that vein that you brought back from China.
Well I suppose the major feeling is is that is is really. Despite our stereotypes about perhaps Chinese or many Asian countries there is a sense in which you don't have the overriding feeling of great poverty that they indeed have managed to feed nine hundred million people which is an accomplishment and that the other thing for any journalist I think is that however you may feel whatever you feel they may have complex that you realize that you your work your life's work really could not be carried out there because I mean if you want to press there essentially be a government worker and you never lose the feeling of control I remember getting out early in the morning to go jogging at about 5:50 in the morning with another American editor and we got to the end of the hall of the hotel hall and the doors were locked and so we had to wait until about 10 minutes later for somebody to come and unlock the doors.
I don't think you ever knew where they were they were locking us in or locking Chinese out. But it seemed to me to sort of symbolize a certain distance even though we were trying to get as close as we could to the Chinese people that was not the only time by the way that we were locked in when we tried to get up early in the morning to go out and run.
I remember when Nixon went to China for a memorable visit of his he took a huge number of the American press people with him including such people as Walter Cronkite. Several in that that sort of crowd. I remember the shock that they report with which they reported on that initial visit the first Marco Polo visit is to China the shock with which they reported the crowds in the capital city the fact that the snow was being swept up by hand the fact that Walter Cronkite at one program said you see the targets he was at an army camp you see those targets those are American tanks that they're practicing I will He was after the amazed aghast as a matter of fact I think somewhat personally insulted by by this silhouette that they were using. And I thought that perhaps it could be laid to the fact that it was the first visit with Nixon everybody felt as if they were pioneering. Yes that sort of goes very quickly doesn't it.
Well I think this is the impressions that were the same for me and some for some reason they just don't stand out quite as.
As much. Certainly there are people sweeping the streets with with brooms instead of using device you know mechanized devices in. And certainly there is a feeling that while we are popular right now that Americans could be turned upon by the government so to speak and then the people would about face and fall of the government. We visited a prison in Chongqing that was sort of a museum now to the American and the killing of Chinese communists. A generation ago and indeed it does make you uneasy here you are an American going through a museum which is sort of dedicated to talking about how evil you are.
Did the delegation all 19 of you react in about the same way or was there a wide variety of opinion as to what you were seeing at any given moment.
Well certainly Vermont Royster the Wall Street Journal who is perhaps a good deal more conservative than I am or perhaps Howard Simons of The Washington Post had a different interpretation of some of the things that we were saying. For example there we were we kept hearing about incentives for workers that indeed they were trying to get more production other workers in industries so they were giving them percentage of quote profits whatever you will.
And. And how do you interpret that as a as a Western device the Chinese insisted that they were doing this in the 50s and that they were just beginning it restarting this this process. And I think many in the Western journalists have put a certain interpretation on that. And we visited a hospital. We saw Eastern medicine. I have not yet read the articles by other journalists on the trip but I was you know not impressed certainly interested in what they were doing and wondering if it were not appropriate in this country to to learn from them in medical area but I just don't know what kind of impression that made on some journalists.
Well we're about to receive if the press reports are correct. Approximately 10000 or more young Chinese in the United States and Western Europe and Japan in a very short time over the next few years the government has made a determined effort to send them out is going to send the first ones out very soon if indeed there are one or two American colleges already installed. Do you think that it is a good idea to try to get some of those people into American journalism so that they despite their propaganda setting might learn and see and take back internships of one kind or another.
Well I think it would be although I don't think that the Chinese government will be sending us people who are not fairly well indoctrinated and for whom the government feels confident they will be returning. But obviously just for the exposure to American journalists so that we know more about Chinese I think it would be a very useful thing.
When you think of going back again you always have a list of things that golly I was there three weeks and I didn't do this. If they asked me for what my itinerary should be in addition to seeing the countries the majority of the rural Chinese would you have other items on your list that you would request of the Chinese government.
Yes it's overwhelming. I would like to not be taking a notebook and the camera with me all the time because they set us off so much. I mean we had a we had somebody with an instant camera and he used it because no one had ever seen or had seen it. He used it almost as a Deanie type instrument he would when he would take a photograph of children and then wave the hand over the camera as if he were performing a magic.
Magic act and then when the image finally came up the people would who. And and it was tremendous but I was thinking of the distance because of what equipment we had in our hands in the pencils and so on and of course the differences. Somehow I wish we could be invisible and just go around the entire country. And also as a journalist I would have liked to have gone to areas where they do not permit us the Russian border for example the Vietnam border. We had an older person in our group so we were not permitted in Tibet because of the heights I think they were worried about him.
So really we did not go into any of the sort of news areas.
Also I would like to know more about the military what's happening there and and. Again we saw a tank demonstration but it was it was basically a show for us.
Which city of China did you like the most. Of the seven that you visited.
Well I like to do is in such one province in the center of the country not because it was the prettiest Joe certainly was that or because it was the most significant in any way I guess you'd have to say Peking is the capital is that. But I had a feeling that I was closer to the people of China and certainly the street life. It was it was less Western less cosmopolitan people. You would you would go out in the morning and 70 or 80 people would be following you down the street. But I really felt much closer to China if there is one China obviously there is no there are many Chinese. And and I guess that's why it's my favorite.
What about Shanghai is that the pulse of China is that the the heartbeat the mechanical tick tock of the country.
Well I don't know I had the feeling that that it was sort of vying with peaking in a way for all kinds of.
Intellectual leadership if not other kinds of leadership. Certainly the history of newspapers and other publications ideologically it has been a kind of balance or counterbalance to Peking and depending upon who's been in power the Gang of Four or there have been publications have started their counter. Peking publications so it has an interest in of course there are Western there where there's a Western influence there in the architecture. There was a hotel that we stayed at was built in 1929 by as I recall of French and so it has a very different flavor but it it's almost not Chinese and some of its aspects architectural and so on and that's why I preferred some other places where one goes overseas to developing countries or to China I suspect.
It's usually true that you are subjected to endless orientations wherever you go there's a row of chairs and somebody with a map and a pointer and he's telling you about this that and the other thing. Did they take. Into into their minds the fact that you were a very sophisticated audience and tone it down or raise the standard of these orientations for your group.
Well I think we tried to compare notes with other groups that were going in it seemed to me that they were more concerned about getting the political message across to us than to other groups. That is that normalization is very important and indeed they knew that we were going to be going back and writing articles for the millions of people who would read not in my case the circulation of my paper is very small and so and of course they've asked for the articles that we've written a lot they want to see what what we're going to say.
So I think the political message was stronger. But again I think they've become more sophisticated. About about avoiding the cliches you were asked me earlier about overriding impressions and I would say one of them is and that is that they have gotten the message out to all the people. Very effectively you hear the same political language in the students in university at Peking University in the leaders of the communes they have they have the cliches they have the word and. And that after a while a gang of four that is Chairman Mao's widow and three other compatriots. After awhile in my notes I just put G4 and then later it just became four because they kept talking about gang of four and how they were the villains.
Repeatedly and you get the impression that if they changed slogans that they would be turned off overnight and some new slogan would be the thing that was being posed to be exactly exactly and the messages everywhere even going down the young sea which is like a time machine taking you back 4000 years. You had political slogans slogans written on the rocks down down the down the river in factories and in schools. The other thing is that you do have a sense of urgency about the war. That the that that war is inevitable with Russia under schools and factories there were there were classrooms built in into the ground and they really they really believe it's coming.
Well Lauren gave me only I thank you very much for this guided tour through the eyes of the 19 representatives of the American Society of Newspaper Editors who went to China for three weeks. I thank you very much I can only say one thing I'm just green with envy. Thank you very. Been a pleasure. For this edition driven.
The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media. In the 1970s the program was produced in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University. Why didn't you GBH radio Boston which is solely responsible for its content.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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