Anyone who has ever read the George Orwell novel, 1984, will know that in some far-off dystopian future, the news is engineered and edited until the Government version of events is believed. 1984 is here, now, and the Chinese Government is Big Brother.
These are exciting times in Beijing. We’ve just had the 2008 Olympic Games held in the Chinese capital, which went off virtually flawlessly. And now the Chinese are launching a long-awaited space mission which will include the country’s first space walk. Or has it already happened, and if so, did this also go flawlessly?
The rocket launch for China’s fledgling space programme was due to occur at 13:10 GMT, with the space walk expected to occur on Friday or Saturday. The mission will end late on Saturday when the craft lands in Mongolia. But according to an article published by the Chinese state news agency, the mission has already taken place, and it was a complete success.
According to The Times, the Xinhua news agency posted an article on its website on Thursday morning, hours before the Shenzhou VII spacecraft had launched. This article not only detailed a successful take-off and description of the craft in flight, but also a detailed conversation between members of the three-strong crew on board.
Here is an excerpt of the dialogue from the article, titled Sleepless Night on the Pacific, Sidelights on the Observation and Control of the 30th Lap of the Shenzhou 7 Spaceship:
“First-level measurement arrangement!”
After this order, signal lights all were switched on, various data show up on rows of screens, hundreds of technicians staring at the screens, without missing any slightest changes …
“One minute to go!”
“Changjiang No.1 found the target!”…
The firm voice of the controller broke the silence of the whole ship. Now, the target is captured 12 seconds ahead of the predicted time …
“The air pressure in the cabin is normal!”
“Ten minutes later, the ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean.”
Sound positively intoxicating doesn’t it? Except of course that we know this conversation never took place, or at least it hasn’t done yet. I wonder if the astronauts on board will now have to follow the script so that this story proves to be true in the end?
The article has now been removed from the Xinhua website, but not before media organisations around the world saw it and recounted its contents.
This may seem like a harmless technical error but it shows how manipulated the Chinese press is, with stories seemingly made up out of the blue and written before the events take place. That sounds more like fiction than news reporting to me. Speaking of fiction, where’s my copy of 1984?