Today’s New York Times Editorial Page reads: “To win the coveted right of holding the Olympics, China promised to expand press freedoms for foreign journalists and dangled the prospect that, more broadly, human rights would also be improved. Instead authorities have harassed and locked up critiques, intimidated journalists, selectively denied visas, silenced grieving parents who lost children in the May 12 earthquake and relocated thousands of Chinese whose homes or businesses were seen as marring Beijing’s image.”
It seems China went the proverbial extra mile to set the world’s expectation of changed and more open policies and then egregiously disappoint. Even the Bush administration, recently notorious for attempting to clamp down on journalistic freedoms by gerrymandering proposed news media shield laws, is demanding the Chinese government reconsider its restrictions. The U.S. is demanding the Chinese government permits journalists to use the Internet and other forms of free communications before, during and presumably after the Olympics.
The Chinese obviously have ongoing freedom of information and credibility issues but they have decided to make it even worse by setting and then dashing expectations. Sure, there would have been a public, governmental and media focus on Chinese restrictions anyway but this obvious flip-flopping and prima facie lying is just plain unforgivable.
Not only does China’s action offend common sensibilities and ethics but it also sends a message to tourists and businesses everywhere that the government can’t be trusted, personal rights will be ignored and China doesn’t care what the world thinks – which seems conflictual since thwarting free speech really says, “I am so paranoid about reality and perception that I will go to any length and risk everything to control my image.” This closed positioning badly damages China’s presumed message that things have changed, business and the world is now welcome.
Whether you represent a government, corporation, personal entity, there are mindful steps to take when setting expectations or changing policy. Here are some lessons we can learn from China:
• Anticipate outcomes of fluctuating messages or actions
• Be ready to explain policy change and justify actions. For example, China may have been concerned with terrorism liabilities if certain communications are not monitored
• Have facts and information in place to support your actions
• Publicly explain your policies before you are caught in a lie
In the case of China’s communications restrictions there may be no redemption or justification but there is absolutely no doubt the Chinese government turned an issue of credibility into a disaster of duplicity.
Share your thoughts.