It is not often that Guido is invited to speak to an audience of Communists, so the invitation to speak to twenty or so visiting Chinese Communist Party propagandists and Information Ministry officials was hard to resist. The audience at the seminar included security officials, it would be fair to say that this was not a home crowd. Almost as bad as a Goldsmith’s Media Studies audience, but not as left-wing.
Guido had difficulty logging into his Google mail account to download the Powerpoint file, having temporarily forgotten the password, the joke that maybe one of the audience could help seemed to get lost in translation.
The Q&A afterwards was what the FCO would describe diplomatically as a “frank exchange”, genuine interest in how political blogging works, great interest in the possibility that it could be an anti-corruption tool. Laughter at the sex scandals, the TBGBs and the influence of Mrs Fawkes on the economic imperatives of blogging. Towards the end of the presentation Guido tried to make it relevant to China. The last slide provoked a sharp intake of breath, some of the audience laughed nervously, some choked, some argued that Ai Weiwei had committed economic crimes. Nixon had the IRS investigate his political opponents.
Apparently he has not filled out all his tax returns, not something that makes him a bad person in Guido’s book. Afterwards this was the focus of one-to-one discussions, it became clear that they – and these were propagandists – have no media strategy to deal with human rights abuse allegations. When challenged that even a criminal suspect should have freedom of speech, they were silent. Maybe in China that is safer.