China Might Have Seen a UFO, Syria Insists Everything Is Just 'Fine'

It's time for our regular roundup of propaganda from around the world

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Authoritarian regimes often dream through propaganda. To see what they're fantasizing about, we regularly check in on what state-controlled media outlets have been churning out.

China bowled over by possible UFO sighting

Sometimes you find calculating propaganda in China's state-run media. And sometimes you just find really wacky stuff.

Yesterday, the Oriental Morning Post reported that multiple airline pilots had spotted a giant illuminated globe in the sky above Shanghai on Saturday night, only days after flights were diverted from the Chongqing airport because of a reported UFO. One microblogger who identified himself as a pilot claimed that the "enormous spherical glowing heavenly body" appeared to be hundreds of times larger than the moon and expanded for 20 minutes before vanishing (photos of the mysterious sphere, including the one above, were swiftly posted online). China Daily initially identified the object as a UFO, only to later call it an "alien spaceship" and quote a science journalist as attributing the sighting to a rocket or satellite launch, though neither of these had been reported on Saturday. In an interview with the Global Times, Beijing Planetarium curator Zhu Jin took issue with people calling the object a UFO. "UFO stands for 'unidentified flying object,' while the scene this time is more accurately described as an unidentified aerial phenomenon," he explained. But catching a glimpse of a UAP is so much less exciting!

The 'Syria Is Fine' (or is it?) campaign

Move over, Syria's young pro-democracy protesters. On Sunday, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency informed us that the regime has its own youthful supporters in the form of "a group of independent Syrian youths" who had decided to organize a tour for 250 figures from 18 countries to convey the "reality of the events" in Syria and unmask "misleading media campaigns." As we learned in subsequent SANA reports, the tour--which was dubbed the "Syria Is Fine" campaign--passed through the Mariamite Cathedral in Damascus ("we live in peace," a church official informed the group) and the restive city of Hama. SANA's report on the Hama visit included the photo on right and quoted several foreign academics and journalists as confirming the regime narrative that "armed terrorist gangs" had committed "sabotage acts" against "public properties" in the city (one Turkish journalist praises SANA's journalism as superior to the West's).

Just a couple problems with the whole 'Syria Is Fine' tour. Reports from Russian and American journalists who participated suggest that the campaign was organized by the government, not "independent Syrian youths." And both reporters conclude that Syria is decidedly not fine after a group of protesters calling for the fall of the regime shatter the Hama governor's version of events. The episode highlights not only SANA's one-sided coverage but also its penchant for channeling government initiatives and opinions through nominally independent actors. Oh, and if you're curious, 'Syria Is Fine' isn't the only campaign in town. Last week SANA covered a visit from an unofficial Russian "We Love Syria and its Leader" delegation.

North Korea's earth-shattering Russia visit

By all accounts, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today--the first between the former Cold War allies for nearly a decade--was pretty productive. Kim agreed to return to stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks and to consider a moratorium on WMD development as part of an agreement to build a Russian gas pipeline through his country to South Korea, according to The Christian Science Monitor. But those achievements seem mundane when held up against the coverage of the visit by the Korean Central News Agency. The state-run outlet observes that the visit, "another event in achieving world peace and security and the human cause of independence, will mark a historic occasion in boosting the DPRK-Russia friendship given steady continuity generation after generation and putting strong impetus to the drive of all the servicepersons and people to build a thriving socialist nation." Kim had selflessly made the trip "without being relieved of the fatigue pent up" by providing "revolutionary leadership day and night" (contrast that description with a Telegraph report today that Kim appeared "limping and frail after suffering a stroke in 2008").

The report may be glowing, but it's nothing compared with the reaction back home to Kim's visit, as chronicled by KCNA. Earlier this week the agency noted that, upon hearing of Kim's impending Russia visit, the "whole country" became "swept by a hot wave of general offensive for flinging open the gate to a thriving nation in 2012 without fail." We learn that scientists, engineers, and factory workers are rushing to hit production targets and "making great achievements in their work to delight" Kim when he returns home  Don't believe the North Korean people are excited? KCNA has a photo to prove it:

Myanmar keeps things brief and dry

On Friday, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi met with President Thein Sein for the first time since she was released from seven years of house arrest in November. While the meeting was generally hailed as a positive step by Myanmar's new, nominally civilian government to reach out to its critics, it was hard to say much else about the development because the state-run media released scant details about the encounter. In a brief, the New Light of Myanmar said only that the pair "tried to find out potential common grounds to cooperate in the interests of the nation and the people putting aside different views." Suu Kyi simply told reporters, "I am glad to see [the president] and I am encouraged." Footage of the meeting broadcast on Myanmar state television provided no further insight:

Myanmar's state-run media seems to apply this strategy a lot. The New Light of Myanmar's articles are short and matter-of-fact, with little color, context, or commentary. For example, The Economist notes this week that Myanmar is gradually and grudgingly drifting into China's orbit as the West spurns the country. But New Light of Myanmar posts this week on Burmese officials working with their Chinese counterparts to collaborate on mineral exploration and electric power make no mention of this dynamic.

When's your next day off? Ask Uzbekistan's president

In the U.S., federal holidays occur at fixed dates or days in the year. But not so in Uzbekistan, apparently. There, the whim of the ruler holds sway. An Uzbekistan National News Agency brief today casually reports that President Islam Karimov has decided to move around days off in connection with the country's independence day on September 1, making the Saturday and Sunday before working days and the Monday and Tuesday before days off (if we have this right that means August 31 is a working day, which doesn't seem efficient). "The decision has been made in order to create favorable conditions for the rest of the people and rational use of the work time," the news agency explained. Ah, we see.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.