Flat Earth: Party mouthpiece

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I WONDER whether Zhu Rongji found it embarrassing to be reminded by the newspapers during his visit to London of his arch exchange at a press conference with Sally Wu, the bubbly anchorwoman of Rupert Murdoch's Phoenix TV.

"I really enjoy watching her show," the Chinese PM announced, to which our Sally gushingly replied: "Mr Zhu, I just want to tell you that you are my idol, too." The whole thing was taken as evidence that Murdoch is beginning to realise his ambitions in China, but cosy relations between the leadership and the media are nothing new.

I remember seeing a nervous young reporter from the state network, CCTV, interviewing a Communist big shot during a party congress. They were standing in a park. In answer to the first question, the top man launched into what seemed to be a repeat of his speech to the congress.

On and on he went, and nobody dared interrupt him. The cameraman resorted to slow pans along flowerbeds, simply to get the endlessly-talking head off the screen, while the reporter's arm began to tremble from the strain of holding the microphone under his interviewee's nose. It must have lasted at least 10 minutes. With competition like this, it is not surprising that Phoenix TV is making inroads.