China Tackles Bathroom Etiquette, Syria Lauds 'Big Table' Dialogue

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

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

China explores restroom rules, social benefits of gambling

You might say the Global Times, and particularly its English edition, is the class clown of state-run Chinese media outlets. The tabloid, which is operated by the Communist Party's People's Daily, is more salacious and apt to push boundaries than its peers, and that tendency is on display today. In one op-ed, an American living in Beijing explains, in graphic detail, how foreigners view a trip to the bathroom as a "private affair" while Chinese people see it as a disturbingly social experience. "It took me time to get used to male students following me into the bathroom during breaks," he explains. "They would ask course-related questions or just make chit-chat."

In an equally surprising column, a Chinese public policy researcher suggests that gambling--which is illegal in China--actually helps build a "healthy civic society" and foster equality in China, which "largely lacks civic, social and fraternal organizations, such as sports leagues or non-profit organizations, which could serve as platforms for creating social capital." The "collective spirit of law-breaking helps bring in further social cohesion," the researcher adds. You don't often hear that sentiment from a Chinese news outlet.

Syria: reform must be discussed around large tables

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency seems to have adopted a formula for reporting on the government's efforts to implement reforms through "national dialogue" meetings across the country--a process activists have dismissed as hollow so long as Syrian security forces continue to crack down on protesters. First, participants must sit at room-sized tables, as depicted in the two pictures below that ran with recent articles (the alternative is for people to be seated in an auditorium with a panel on a dais):

The second rule is that the reports must be vague. "The sessions aim to discuss various visions to set up a common platform for the work during the forthcoming stage based on enhancing the independence of the national decision, maintaining the national sovereignty and respecting the freedom of the citizen and law sovereignty," an article reads today.

The articles should also avoid directly criticizing the authorities (one participant is quoted as saying that the current regime is responsible for zero percent of the uprising since "acts of the previous governments are responsible for 50% of the crisis, while the other half is an external conspiracy) and should chronicle the further study that will accompany proposed reforms. Participants in Aleppo "proposed forming a committee to follow up on the outcomes of these dialogue sessions," SANA reports.

Iran somehow blames American hiker reports on media

In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would be releasing two long-detained American hikers imminently on humanitarian grounds, prompting foreign media and Iranian state-run news outlets like Press TV and the Mehr News Agency (MNA) to report the news. Now, as Iranian judiciary official backpedal on the statement, Press TV and MNA find themselves in a tough spot. Dare they blame the premature news that they themselves reported on the source: Ahmadinejad? Of course not. Instead, in an article entitled "Iran Denies Release of US Nationals" Press TV points a finger at unreliable "media reports," even while it admits that Ahmadinejad "stated in an interview with NBC news channel that two US nationals will be released in a couple of days as a humanitarian gesture."

Iran's state-run media may not be censuring Ahmadinejad, but some of his fellow politicians are. A parliamentarian named Parviz Sorouri tells MNA that Ahmadinejad interfered in the affairs of other branches of government. "According to the Constitution, the executive branch of government has no right to make decision about the people charged with espionage," he says.

Myanmar may not have democracy, but it has a day to celebrate it

One tactic of authoritarian regimes is to establish a day to celebrate something that may or may not actually be present in the country. The New Light of Myanmar announced this week that the country will celebrate its first ever International Day of Democracy 2011 tomorrow. The aim of the event, the state-run news outlet explains, is to bolster the "firmly flourishing democratization process and rights in conformity with the actual progress of the nation so as to serve the interests of the State and the entire people."

But the U.S. would probably take issue with that description. The State Department's website notes that while Myanmar adopted a new constitution through a 2008 referendum and held nationwide elections in 2010 for the first time in two decades, the regime is civilian in name only and "suppresses all expression of opposition to its rule." In fact, on Wednesday, the U.S. special representative to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, declared during a visit to Yangon that Myanmar must free political prisoners, investigate human rights abuses, and maintain dialogue with opposition figures like Aung San Suu Kyi before relations can improve with Washington.

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