Yucky gunk gets VOA a mass audience in China without bothering the cyber police
At their latest board meeting, BBG members made a big deal out of “OMG Meiyu,” described as a trendy, cross cultural English teaching feature produced by Voice of America’s Mandarin Service, which — according to the BBG press release — has become an overnight sensation in China, where viewers are flocking to social media sites to see her idiomatic lesson called “Yucky Gunk.”
Just to make sure that BBG members don’t get carried away too far with their enthusiasm and draw some wrong conclusions, we would like to make a few points.
1. Words like “All of the icky stuff that comes out of your face!!, eye gunk, sleepies, earwax, booger, snot, drool, slobber, pimple/zit/blemish” — which the delightful and very talented Jessica Beinecke teaches the Chinese to use — apparently do not trigger the Great Chinese Internet Firewall.
2. But don’t be fooled BBG. Words like “human rights, political prisoners, media freedom” will not go through. They will not get you a mass audience in China, but it does not mean you should drop them.
3. We’re not saying that “OMG Meiyu” should not continue. We suggest your VOA Chinese programs should teach both “yucky gunk” and “human rights.” By the way BBG members, aren’t you surprised that the VOA China Branch already has this program and very active Internet and social media presence, even though you have not yet fired 45 journalists specializing in human rights reporting for radio and TV, as you said you want to do because — according to your executive staff — VOA cannot possibly do both? Perhaps you won’t have to fire these journalists after all.
4. Seriously, if you eliminate VOA Mandarin and Cantonese radio and TV programs — which are not subject to the Chinese Internet censorship — you will be left with “All of the icky stuff that comes out of your face!!, eye gunk, sleepies, earwax, booger, snot, drool, slobber, pimple/zit/blemish.” You may, from time to time get a large number of hits for such stuff, but where is the mission of providing uncensored news and political, social and economic ideas?
5. Don’t get us wrong. We love Jessica Beinecke, but how is she going to help a pregnant Chinese woman threatened with a forced abortion under China’s one-child policy? Can her lessons help a Chinese worker who is trying to organize a protest against communist party bosses? They may not speak English and cannot afford the Internet.
6. Think about your marketing strategy that forces VOA journalists to replace serious news reporting with putting sexy images on the web — as we saw in the VOA Russian Service after experienced journalists were fired. While the latter is certainly more useful than the former, sexy images and yucky gunk produce page views. As one former VOA director observed: under this approach, how many listen (or view your website) is far more important as who listens, and to what.
Enjoy the show but don’t silence the rest of American voices for those in China who expect a little more from America than “eye gunk.”