Where’s all the news, Tantao News?

April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

You’d think a showdown between India and Pakistan at the Cricket World Cup would be a good scenario for a Twitter war. So I went searching for nationalistic taunting between Twitter users from both countries and surprisingly, found nothing calculated to enrage rival cricket fans. But the searches did throw up one idiosyncratic feature. All the search columns were topped with a promoted tweet for a news organisation called Tantao News.

If you recall, Al Jazeera were probably the first news organisation to use promoted tweets to corner news coverage of the Egyptian chapter of what has come to the called the Arab Spring of discontent and protest. The Wall Street Journal reported the cost of one day of promoting a tweet is something around $US100,000. It isn’t a cheap way to advertise a news product and it helps that Al Jazeera has the deep pockets of the Emir of Qatar to count on.

But who or what are Tantao News (@TantaoNews on Twitter) and its Global News Desk service?

The website tells us that it is an American news organisation, run and administered by CNEWSCO which is a start-up new media company based in Washington DC with operations in Los Angeles and Beijing.

Its operation is focused on “the aggregation, production and distribution of China-themed news and related content”. Tantao, according to the website, is Chinese for discover or to explore.

So far so good, taken at face value, here’s a new US-based news aggregator and producer that specialises in “China themed” news at a time when there is widespread misunderstanding and ignorance of China, particularly in the West. It promises that it is responsible for “our own productions and in selecting the textual news articles and videos that appear on our site from a continuous stream of content available to CNEWSCO from our news partners”.

These news partners are the Xinhua News Agency and the Shanghai Media Group with which Tantao has syndication agreements.  Xinhua is the Chinese government’s official news agency and the SMG is owned by the city of Shanghai and is one of China’s largest broadcasters.

The website also says Tantao maintains absolute editorial independence from its content partners, “meaning we make decisions about the information on our site free of any outside influence”.

“With China assuming a larger role in world affairs, access to this news is critical to understanding the dynamics behind China’s policies, decisions, and directions,” the website says.

As well as stories about China’s economy, politics, financial markets and technology, there are also world stories that include the latest news from hotspots like Libya, Syria, Ivory Coast and Afghanistan.

In the China Focus section, there are stories about radioactive iodine detected in some Chinese provinces, new parking restrictions in Beijing and the doubling of solar energy goals, among others.

But I couldn’t find any news about the so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ protest movement that has made many China watchers and bloggers nervously waiting for the Chinese government’s response.

Crucially, there is no content about the current crackdown on human rights and social activists. The recent arrest of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the designer of the National Stadium in Beijing (known as the Bird’s Nest) is conspicuous by its absence. Also missing is news of the recent detention of Australian Chinese blogger Yang Hengjun.

As China watcher Charles Custer who founded the China Geeks website described it on Twitter; “Seriously, Yang Hengjun, Ran Yunfei, Teng Biao, Sec Zhang, etc. etc….this is a fucking apocalypse of arrests, why doesn’t anyone care?”

If Tantao News wants to be a credible ‘China themed’ news organisation, maybe it should care.

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