Olympics will hurt China's image, say agency heads

More than half of UK PR agency bosses believe the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will have a negative impact on China's reputation.

Activists want a boycott of the Beijing Olympics
Activists want a boycott of the Beijing Olympics

And two-thirds believe it is right for the ­Olympics to be used as a lobbying platform to highlight issues ­unrelated to the Games.

The results of the latest survey of PRCA's 118-strong Leaders' Panel come amid a fresh wave of mainly negative coverage of China's ­human rights record in Tibet.

This week, international pressure was heightened ­after French president ­Nicholas Sarkozy became the first world leader to say he would consider a boycott of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony. How­ever, the PRCA survey was conduc­ted ­before Sarkozy made his comments. Members of the PRCA panel said the negative coverage about China was to be expected.

‘You cannot really expect that sport will be the one and only headline,' said The Red Consultancy's MD Andrew Baiden.

Kysen PR MD Clare Rodway said: ‘Given the positive publicity China has received for its economic development, it is good that the ­Olympics has unearthed the human rights issues and stopped the hype.'

Zhao Shangsen, a press counsellor at the Chinese embassy in the UK, insisted the embassy was ‘trying to accommodate' all media ­requests. Hill & Knowlton is handling international med­ia for BOCOG, the Beijing Organising Committee.

How the PRCA PR Leaders' Panel voted
52% said the Olympics would have a negative impact on China's reputation
16% said there would be no change
32% said the Olympics would have a positive impact
67% said it was OK for the Olympics to be used as a lobbying platform
29% said the Olympics should remain a ‘celebration of sport'

INDUSTRY VIEW: CLASSIC CASE OF POOR CRISIS MANAGEMENT
Simon Cohen
Managing director, Global Tolerance

China's response to the recent media coverage is a classic example of poor crisis management PR. Many of those who now openly object to China hosting the Olympics were mute at the start of the bid process, despite being aware of the alleged human rights contraventions.

Simon CohenThe Olympics must have been granted to China for sound reasons, so why is there not more media commentary on this to balance the coverage? The story is being allowed to run, and the

Chinese PR team needs to step up its game. It is surprising, given the influence of the Western media, that China is not putting more resources into mitigating such negative stories.

The most meaningful mitigation of all is to demonstrate it is taking the crisis seriously - and taking practical action.

You need to walk the talk if you are to get any credibility in this world. If China has nothing to hide, then it need not be worried. Show proof. This will have the best effect on its reputation.

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