■ 22:05 (UTC±00:00 +DST), 20 OCT 2015 | GBR HARROW, GREATER LONDON
Being interviewed on the lawn at College Green in central London, right next to the Houses of Parliament, was and remained a very unique event to me. The BBC got together around six people from all walks of life — including lawyers, artists, academics, and independent journalists — and filled an entire hour of programming with discussions and debate, with Chinese President Xi Jinping in town.
I’m usually not this “political” (or rather “current affairs”) — indeed, on a trip in the US in 1998, I was told to stay away from, as much as I could, a heated debate in either politics or religion. I didn’t end up the most political, either: in all of my responses, I decided to connect anything official with the immediate effects it was having upon the average John Q Public in central Beijing. Even the more “difficult” topics, such as (obviously!) human rights, were looked at in terms of what it meant to the commoner. Of much greater concern was an apolitical look at whether or not your quality of life got better or worse (as an example) throughout the years.
The way we conducted the interview and the programming itself was, certainly to me, quite unlike any other. It was held in the open, right next to other “camera & mic” setups by other media outlets (such as TV stations). We had no cover, no cameras, three microphones (microphones only, since this was an audio-only show), and stood around in a circle. It was in fact none other than like a good old chat — except you handed over the mic to the person who wanted to speak. At the end, we tuned in live to the Chinese President’s address to the Houses of Parliament and gave our quick 2p on how the talk was. Consensus was we did in fact actually like it.
Some of the topics and participants were, of course, potentially controversial — and yet nobody had to shout down the microphone or call someone out for something, live. I, of course, decided to focus on the more “commoner-centred” topics, such as…
- what I felt seeing the Chinese flag in the Mall: of course, as an ethnic Chinese, there was undoubtably a sense of pride, although it also goes to show how integral a part China is in the world today;
- what “quality” meant to me: in terms of “product quality”, while it is true Chinese products are at times affected, I have also had lamps fail on me in the UK, and these consist of the merely lesser disturbances I’ve went through in terms of rather shoddy product quality I encountered here in Britain; in terms of “quality of life”, it is in fact what most Chinese would think of when foreigners might have used the rather charged term, “human rights”. The Chinese interpretation is much more based on personal circumstances and how, to an individual, life has improved tangibly — or got visibly worse.
- perceptions-wise: how important it is the media report on a more real China, and how vital it was for the media to jump out from the preassumptions and misconceptions
and a lot of other topics and points of discussion.
I myself believe that things like today’s live interview is a great way to share voices freely, a principle I stick to dearly. Everyone was given almost equal microphone access and on-air time, and every view was so different and unique. The discussion wrapped up by noting how down-to-earth the Chinese President’s comments were and how this was welcomed and made a difference. ■ ■ ■