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OEM PR and Chinese media

The media silence over the Volkswagen problematic TSI+DSG is an interesting phenomenon that shows the kind of relationship in China between the media and OEMs, especially foreign invested joint venture companies.

In the news analysis published on her blog, Sun Xiaohong quotes two journalists from the country’s leading print media, Zhongguo Qiche Bao (China Automotive News) and 21 Shiji Jingji Baodao (21st Century Economic Herald).  One said: “Earlier all of us heralded the TSI+DSG technology. For us to criticize the technology now is like slapping our own faces and is unfair. We have so much other stuff in the world to worry about that we don’t really need to do so if we can help it.” And the other said media silence over Volkswagen’s problematic TSI+DSG powertrain reflects a “unique Chinese characteristics.”

If you understand what is meant by “building socialism with Chinese characteristics” you would understand what “unique Chinese characteristics” means in explaining the media silence.

To put the two comments into plain English, it means that most of the media in China have been treated so well by VW and its two JVs that they don’t want to “bite the hands that feed them.”

It is by now an open secret that media representatives invited by OEMs to participate in company PR events are paid a “taxi fee” in cash that ranges from several hundred RMB Yuan to several thousand, depending on the influence of both the journalists and their media. Some leading automotive journalists are flown in first-class cabins and accommodated in five-star hotels for a company visit. OEMs, especially profitable joint venture companies spend lavishly in advertising in order to keep a friendly relationship with the media.

The reason why CCTV did not report on the Volkswagen DSG problem during the March 15 Consumer Right Day this year was simple, commented a journalist at a recently media gathering. “Don’t you see Das Auto on CCTV?!”

Corporate communications and PR executives of many foreign invested OEMs have done a superb job in maintaining their brand image in China by a series of practices with “unique Chinese characteristics” in making sure that the media do not report negatively about their products and services. One example is GM China. “Look at the poor engines that GM brought to China,” said a seasoned industry analyst. “But have you seen any negative reports in the media? No.”

Unfortunately the practice of “Chinese characteristics” to prevent the media from reporting negatively can work only some of the time but not all the time.

It is bold for Sun Xiaohong to point out sharply that “unfortunately, the serious and rigorous VW has treated consumers as guinea pigs.” Professional journalists will also share her view that as a journalist “none of us would want to tell lies” and the first concern of a journalist should be “consumer interests and journalistic ethics and professionalism.”  

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