Western media producers and providers have learned one thing in at least this decade: China is a big market for their content. They also learned that China is a finicky market that is partly steered by the Communist government that has absolute say over what overseas media sees the light of day in their cinemas and TV. Anything Chinese censors deem to reflect negatively on the government gets either a censor or a ban, and condemnation from their public as a result. When an NBA team manager spoke of support for the anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong, Chinese backlash led to the league issuing an apology that rubbed Americans wrong.
As The Hollywood Reporter tells it, social media has been taken aback by the extent of damage control the National Basketball Association (NBA) undertook following a Sunday Twitter post by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing his solidarity with the Hong Kong protests. The tweet generated the expected backlash from mainland China, which normally counted the Rockets as their favorite NBA team for being the one-time squad of their basketball hero and current Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) president Yao Ming. Local NBA carriers like Tencent and CCTV even threatened not to air Rockets games.
It was understandable that the Rockets and the NBA itself would take steps to assuage any hurt feelings from one of their biggest markets in Asia and the world. But for many, the method done by the league went somewhat beyond appeasement and into excessive kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party. Two official NBA statements were released, one in English and the other in Chinese. The English statement expressed regret for Morey’s statement but noted the NBA is committed to individual freedom of expression. The Chinese statement on the other hand expressed stronger language against the Houston GM for hurting feelings of Chinese basketball fans.
Observers of Chinese news noted that the word syntax used by the NBA in their Chinese-language apology to China is almost verbatim what the CCP uses whenever it speaks out against foreign media and personalities they feel undermine the party’s authority over nearly many aspects of life in China. For the moment, other NBA figures and celebrities have been quiet over the issue; but it has stirred heated discussion from US Senators and Democratic Party presidential candidates. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta already announced that Daryl Morey’s statement is his own and does not represent official opinion of the franchise.
The ongoing pro-democracy protests in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) that Morey referenced in his Tweet has been the subject of much downplaying and compartmentalizing by mainland China, with the government opining that the protesters have foreign backing.
Image courtesy of NY Post