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Foreigner in Chinese Media
Foreigners in China
Extracted from First Mover, Issue 22, edited by Wang Ye

Ever seen a two-meter-like human-skyscraper walking passing by? And you might not recognize him by sight, but probably his voice will ring a bell—This is Paul James, anchorman of People in the Know, political current affair program broadcasted in English on China Radio International (CRI).

Dressed in black suit, Paul sits casually and shares his story.

New journey ahead

Years ago, tired of fitting into a comedian way of broadcasting back in British Columbia, Canada, Paul decided it was time looking for a new start, for things serious and to make a difference. So packed his life, Paul landed in China.

Although full of passion and expectation, Paul knew not much about the country but scratches. “Big country across the ocean with majority of its people speaking Chinese,” and this is pretty much all.

Two years time living and working here, Paul gets to know more about China and its culture. He might be regarded by many as a Beijinger already, living in a Si he yuan and speaking “yi dian dian” Chinese.

Recommended by friend, Paul’s journalist-life restarted with CRI. Workload as a CRI crew is heavy, but he enjoys the professional and multi-cultural working environment. “I feel like working in the United Nations,” he said, “CRI broadcasts in forty-two languages and anyone you run into at break time might be an anchor speaking any language.”

Member of English team, Paul felt more at ease, with the majority of anchors coming from Canada (seven out of twelve). He joked that it could make CRI “Canadian Radio International”.
Politics Does Matter

Followed his heart and traveled far, Paul found in CRI a place right for him and finally is doing what he loves to do. His program, people in the know, is designed to present political issues of China and the world with analysis and interviews. “It targets at not only Chinese audience but also audience from English-speaking countries.” Paul said.

“For many people, politics may mean international affairs or complexities, but also things out of their concern and far from daily lives.” Paul said, and does not share the same view. To him, politics is what happens around and “events that shape our country and shape our life”.

That he hosted People in the Know more people-friendly. Different voices can be heard in his program, top talks with experts go in a audience-approachable way and analysis insightful and understandable.

“I hope that through my program, more people may change their stereotypes towards politics—politics does matter.” Paul said sincerely.

A Day of Paul

Program host is no easy job, let along acting as journalist the same time. Although People in the Know goes only half an hour on air every day, Paul knows that more effort must be paid to “let people know”.

Interviews for example. As interviewees are from all over the world, time must be chosen to go with their schedule. No surprise that Paul has to make midnight phone calls and switch to work-mode real quick. “I don’t mind it at all. Instead, I am quite used to it,” Paul said. “As a matter of fact, I often worked as long as ten or twelve hours when I was in Canada.”

Irregular working hours plus heavy workload, if someone does not complain about out loud, at least will grumble a bit. Not the case for Paul. “I find the job quite challenging and exciting,” he said, “I love talking about political issues and sharing ideas with people from all over the world, and in CRI I can.”
Lovable and Hateful Media

If Paul does have something to complain, then news freedom it is. As a universal truth, when it comes to politics, news is often not that free.

“Before I do a program, I have to give the outline to my team leader in CRI. And she will decide who I’d better interview and who I’d better not,” Paul said, “From time to time, Foreign Ministry also talk to us about topics good to hear.” Paul doesn’t have to take all the suggestions, and that is what he does.

A former journalism-major, Paul believes that “the basic role of media is to break the silence and supervise the government”, but sometimes this role becomes complicated with other concerns.

“I’m afraid that some valuable opinions may finally be left out in the program, for not being ‘politically suitable’ from an official perspective.” Paul said.

“Last year, I planned to interview a NGO worker in North Korea about a severe famine taking place there.” Paul recalled, “That time some places even ran out of food for nearly three months. But this did not make to the program for there was concern that it might offend North Korea and embarrass its leader.”

Found it understandable, Paul still could not get it over. “I’m really angry at that time at their decision, because I think it is what people in China also other countries are interested in and what they should know,” he said.

Paul is holding on to his belief. In his program, you hardly hear government meetings or official visits but in-depth reports on living standard in today’s China, fresh water crisis and many others. “Programs should act like a window, showing people everything happening outside,” he said, “And once the public is well-informed, they can decide for themselves and push the society forward.”

Close-up of China

Coming to China literally breaks the stereotype about the country for Paul. “It is not the same the western media portrayed,” Paul said, “I do enjoy the people and the culture here in China. It is an ancient country but full of vitality. I am fascinated by its tradition and culture.”
“Some conflicts occur between China and the western countries come from lack of communication and understanding,” he said, “And I believe it could be better solved if China be more open to the outside and more foreign journalists be allowed insights into China.”
“Some overseas media distorted the facts of Lhasa incident. I think to some degree is because foreign journalists are not allowed in Tibet. If they are permitted to fly there, they’ll see the truth with their own eyes instead of following their imaginations.”

“And the Olympics will be a great opportunity, since large numbers of foreigners are allowed into the country,” Paul said, and hopes that journalists can learn more as he did and coming with a told story but leaving with their own objective narration based on what they saw.

Crossroad Again

Future is positively a question mark for Paul since his contract in CRI was limited to five years. “I don’t know why they have this rule but when time is due, I will go.” Paul said.

So it is crossroad again—back to Canada, move to another country, transfer into a private media in China or something else. With the love of life here, to go for a career in China remains his top choice.

“I am happy here. I don’t actually want to go back to Canada,” he said, “but I know it’s getting more and more difficult to find a job as a correspondent.” But at least, he will give it a shot.


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