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China And The Media: How Some Customs Never Change

Friday, 20 Jul 2007 | 9:14 AM ET
Beijing, China
AP
Beijing, China

Here in Beijing, you can see the change happening everywhere you go. Construction sites are a dime a dozen. Roads are being repaved in the wee hours of the night. Cranes lurch over the skyline. Still, some things here never change--including the way businesses interact with the media.

As a journalist, ethics are very important. Gifts are taboo, unless they are of nominal value. You never want to appear to be giving favorable coverage in return for a favor. Quid pro quo is, simply, a no-no.

But in China, paying local journalists happens all the time. Apparently, it is customary here to give journalists what's known as "transport money" in exchange for attending press events. There are typically two separate lines at press registration: one for foreign journalists, who do not take the "transport money," and another for local journalists who line up to receive their little red envelopes of cold hard cash.

What's even more interesting is that foreign multinational companies don't shy away from this custom. Often, in hiring a local firm to handle press events, this custom is carried out. The alternative is: getting no local coverage for a new store opening or new product launch in one of the biggest markets in the world.

They can raze entire blocks of hutongs to construct new high rises virtually overnight. But some traditions here are hard to break.

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