Some six weeks ago, I received an email, out of blue, from Rossiya Segodnya in Russia, inviting me to attend to a global conference on journalism in early June in Moscow. I did a bit of research and discovered it is a proper state-owned media group. I thought why not. I love Russian literature and cinema.
The theme of the forum is New Era of Journalism: Farewell to Mainstream with a goal to change the stereotypical way to discuss media.
The two-day forum was attended by several dozens of journalists, writers and thinkers from all over the world. There were four journalists from China Daily, Xinhua and People’s Daily. I was the black sheep, as usual. We were put up at an old fashioned five star hotel called Golden Ring, which is a stone’s throw away from the magnificent building of the Foreign Ministry. This was the first hint of what was to come. We knew that some senior officials would show up at the conference.
On the second day, the security to the conference site, also around the corner from the Foreign Ministry, became much tighter. At the meanwhile, scores of Russian journalists and TV crews turned up, bringing an air of excitement with them. Rumour went around that the president himself would grace the conference.
The morning session entitled Guaranteeing Freedom of Information went on as normal. It was actually quite engaging that I almost forgot about the big shot. Some panelists focused on the theme of the forum, by comparing the new media with the traditional forms, or arguing that news agency should just provide news without offering comments; others were critical of western mainstream media’s tendency of silencing dissent voice. The President suddenly turned up during the Q & A session. In fact, the deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily was singing the praise of her publication and had to stop mid-sentence as the man walked to the stage and took the podium.
I can’t remember precisely of Putin’s short speech. I do remember his finishing line: I hope you delegates will report the Russian affairs truthfully. It is a familiar phrase for a Chinese and we know what it means. I had some inkling what this conference was about. And this remark spelt it out clearly.
In the afternoon’s session, Julian Assange addressed the conference via a video link. He looked pale and his hair as white as his shirt. A journalist from Xin Hua filed a question for him. The Chinese journalist compared the wikileaks founder’s enforced confinement at Ecuador embassy in London to a trip to space station. “Staying at a space station damages one’s health,” remarked the Chinese. “Are you okay?” Mr. Assange said he is okay even though he hasn’t seen the sun for five years.
All in all, it has been a fascinating experience. And what pleasure to have the opportunity to meet my journalist colleagues around the world and exchange views with them and explore this amazing city together. Lucky me!