We may have a number of preconceptions about Chinese state media, and some of them were confirmed when details of a lecture given by a senior Xinhua News Agency official at Tianjin Foreign Studies University last month were leaked by a journalism student who was there.
Xia Lin's presentation, entitled, "Understanding Journalistic Protocols for Covering Breaking News", uncovered what really happened behind the scenes.
For example, in 2003, Yang Yiwei was China's first astronaut in space. But there were some flaws in the capsule's design so that when he entered the earth's atmosphere, the G-forces he endured were so extreme on his body that he later reported that his organs felt like they were being torn apart.
Xia said the experience caused Yang's lip to split open so that when workers opened the capsule, they were shocked to see his face covered in blood. However, they were undaunted and just quickly wiped his face and closed the capsule again for the cameras to roll so that China's newest hero could emerge appearing unscathed but pale.
Then when it came to reporting last July's riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang, Xia explained that Xinhua covered up the extent of the violence in the region. He said the reporters saw lots of evidence of Uyghurs killing Han Chinese but didn't play this up too much in their reports for fear it would cause further unrest in the rest of the country. He said that Uyghurs had set fire to a bus, killing everyone on board, and they also raped women and decapitated children.
"Under those circumstances, it would have exacerbated ethnic conflicts if more photos were released," he said.
He added that the reporters also did some intelligence gathering that never makes the front pages of newspapers. They snuck into hospitals and took pictures of the victims who were mostly Han Chinese. It was these secretive reports that President Hu Jintao read and apparently decided then to cut short his visit to Italy for the G8 summit to return home to take control of the situation.
These confidential reports are not uncommon; those Xinhua reporters chosen for their political background and work track record will routinely write two reports, one for mass consumption, and another for senior leaders, that give a more accurate picture of the situation. This can range from the unhygienic state of restaurants along Guijie in Beijing to the aforementioned Urumqi riots.
An adjunct professor at University of California, Berkeley Xiao Qiang, who regularly reports on Chinese media and how stories are reported there, says Xia's lecture is "basically telling these students that journalism in China is a big show, it's fabricated, but in the end it's all justified for the higher purpose of stability," he said.
However, soon after they were put up, the postings of Xia's lecture were quickly deleted, for fear of further exposing the truth.
But more importantly, has anything happened to Xia?