Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Latest Radio Doc Reviews | radioinfo

Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Latest Radio Doc Reviews

Friday 22 December, 2017

Podcasts, murder and media censorship.

Two reviews from issue 6 of RadioDoc Review, a digital journal critiquing audio documentaries and podcasts, covers the five-part BBC R4 series 'Intrigue: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel', one by Drew Ambrose, the other by Chinese media scholar Sonya Song, a Google Policy Fellow studying news censorship in China when the events of the series took place. 

BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie's podcast investigates the killing of businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing in 2011, exploring his links to China's up-and-coming power couple. 

Ambrose, Al Jazeera Asia Pacific correspondent, describes the podcast as 'Agatha Christie meets House of Cards with an oriental twist'. It tells the story of the downfall of Bo Xilai, a once powerful and charismatic politician who could have eclipsed current President Xi Jingping as future leader of China if the cards fell his way. 

Despite the challenges of reporting in China, Gracie manages to explain with clarity the tale of money, sex and power which led to Bo Xilai's downfall, Ambrose says. 'It's refreshing to see a foreign correspondent dive deep and explain an important chapter of Chinese politics with simplicity and flair.'

The podcasting landscape is replete with American crime stories (Serial, Dirty John, Criminal, S-Town etc) making Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel a must-listen for 'China nerds', as Gracie calls them. 

'There are no heroes in it - only villains and victims and it’s a descent into the dark heart of Chinese elite politics, which is dangerous. And that being the case, most of the people who know the story from the inside are dead, in jail or unwilling to talk,' Gracie says. 

Ambrose describes Gracie's delivery as charismatic and jovial, which despite the seriousness of the subject matter, makes for an entertaining and accessible piece of journalism. (Head here to see the BBC's online presentation of the series.)

The review's main criticism of Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel is that much of the reporting gathered in the field doesn't move the story along, with it's key strength being the comprehensive phone interviews Gracie conducted with interviewees based in Britain and Australia. 

'A major exception is when Gracie goes to the scene of the murder in Chongqing. Without giving too much away - the hostile reception that she receives from the hotel proprietor is a chilling warning to back off the case.

'This also gives the listener an idea of the sensitivities involved in reporting on the Bo Xilai case.' says Ambrose, who is also critical of the soundtrack, describing it as repetitive and sometimes inappropriate for conveying the right mood. 

As well as its themes of sex and violence, Sonya Song's take on Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel focuses on news censorship and its interplay with Chinese politics.

As a Google Policy Fellow studying news censorship, Song happened to witness how Chinese media was controlled in the thick of Bo’s drama.

'For NetEase alone, a top news portal in China, about 50 articles were censored during the week when [police chief] Wang ran to the US consulate for asylum. Another 30 articles were deleted when Gu [Bo's wife] was on trial, while on average 24 stories were censored from NetEase in 2012,' says Song. 

Song writes that the series has a lot to offer a Chinese audience, too, as it reveals many backstage stories that Chinese media have never, and will never, disclose under the current administration. 

Listen to Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel here


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