That's China!

Chinese media is tricky business

| April 20, 2006

Google, Rupert Murdoch, and other media giants have been vexed of late by the China problem. China is a vast, some would say untapped, market, but it has proved largely elusive to even the biggest multinational media bidders due to the state's labyrinthine 'legal' system. Yet possibly no one knows the dangers of the media business in China quite as well as Mark Kitto, a British citizen who started and ran what some have called a mini-media empire in China.

In an article for Britain's Prospect Magazine, Kitto provides a sketch of his tumultuous career in Chinese media. For the seven years he worked to produce various English-language expat magazines in China, Kitto existed on the fringes of legality. The tight control the state exercises over media pushed him into subterfuge, as the large public demand for his publications pulled him into the spotlight. And for a while, his work was condoned by the powers that be.

The brand image that Kitto says he started -- that's Shanghai! and that's Beijing were a couple of his publications -- was wildly successful, constantly spawning new iterations. Yet, the entire operation ran on a hodge-podge of partnerships and allegiances that constantly forced Kitto to pack up and get going elsewhere. He was a constant source of investigation -- he claims to have been investigated by nine bureaus altogether -- and his computers were even confiscated once.

Suddenly, however, his dream of owning the line of magazines he created crumbled. Kitto's longtime associate and advisor, the mysterious Mr. Yuan, tried to force Kitto into a deal that Kitto found unacceptable. After he tried to block the deal, he found his operations taken over, leaving him with nothing. In one swift move Mr. Yuan had forced Kitto's employees to choose between the two of them. The employees, Kitto explains, knew he was powerless and sided with Mr. Yuan.

Now, Kitto is attempting to secure the 'that's' name, the only legal recourse he has left. Intellectual property, Kitto notes, is the only aspect of media that can be privately owned in China. His troubles don't end there, however. He wrote a book about the ordeal and, according to an article endnote, after the manuscript had been edited, 'the publisher dropped it for fear of harming its Chinese interests.'
-- Nick Rose

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