Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It may take another 10 years ...

Picture from chinadaily.com.cn
I've been following the news on Urumqi since the bloody riot broke out. As usual, I've read a lot of reports online from western news outlets, such as BBC, CNN, Reuters, Guardian, FT, WSJ, NYT and so on. I was once again disappointed by their 'fair and balanced' news coverage. Little improvement has been made from last year's coverage of Tibet. I've followed some western journalists on Twitter who are reporting from Urumqi. Strangely enough, the short messages they left on Twitter seemed to try to tell people what was going on there (the facts). But when the full news articles came out online, they never seemed to be balanced news coverage. Some western media even compared the 'peaceful protest' in Urumqi with the Tiananmen protest in 1989. What a joke! What an irony!

In 1989, Chinese people had no access to western media and few Chinese could speak and read English. I was till a child back then, but I clearly remembered my parents strongly support and sympathize those students who protested in Tiananmen because 'they were protesting against corruption'. Yes, my parents solely relied on CCTV for information then, but they supported the protesters! Now, 20 years later, more and more Chinese can speak English, and western media are more accessible. The number of Chinese who are studying, working and living abroad is huge and still growing. However, the overseas Chinese, fully exposed to western media and democracy are exactly those who are at the forefront of criticizing and protesting against biased western media. Does this mean anything to those western media? I'm afraid not. Eyes shut, ears closed.

Fortunately, I managed to read some balanced news articles on Guardian. So, there is till hope.

A few weeks ago, I left a comment under a post by a blogger, Aimee Barnes. The post had something to do with journalism and China. Then Aimee asked my opinion about something like how western journalists can improve news coverage of China. Honestly, I didn't give any opinion but said that I thought it might take another 10 years for western media to cover China with more fairness and balanced opinion. For some reason, my comment did not appear under that post. Anyway, it did not bother me.

I know a post like this will automatically get me the label of 'Chinese nationalist' from western media. Well, I think calling those Chinese who protest against biased news reports 'nationalists' is just CHEAP tactics. Wanna check how 'nationalist' is defined here?


Ramesh said...

You have made a lot of very important points Hang. There is a lot of merit in what you are saying.

I don't however think its any particular bias against China that drives media reporting. World over, media tends to side with protesters and against governments. That's simply the way people react. Same was the case with the Iran protests. Or the Thai protests that happened sometime ago.

We all hope peace and prosperity reigns in Xinjiang. When events like this happens, the poor suffer a lot. Hope normalcy will come back very soon.

Hang said...

Ramesh - My good friend, a backpacker who settled down in Lhasa for some years, was in Lhasa when the riot happened last year. I called him and he gave me his account of what happened there. When news came out on BBC, CNN and many French and German media. Wrong photos (taken in Nepal and India) were used to show how 'brutal' Chinese army were treating 'protesters'. Crappy articles were written implying hundreds of 'protesters' were killed by Chinese army. I'm sure there is bias.

I've watched the news on the Iran protests. I'm sure western media coverage was not well balanced for some obvious reason. As for Thai protest, it was a bit different.

Ira said...

I've been reading western report on urumqi riot too. I feel exactly the same as your. I find Washington Post is very very biased. With careful choice of words, the reporters successfully misguide their readers so much that one of the reader even leaves a comment like "oh my god, 156 Uighurs are killed", I cannot help laughing when reading an ironical comment like this.
New York Times and Guardian is better. At least their reporters told the stories of some Han families who lost their beloved ones and suffered a lot during the riot.
I don't expect western media to cover the story in the same way as Xinhua news agency, but at least western journalists must be HONEST. Some journalists' work ethic is really questionable.

BTW, blogger.com is unblocked now?

Hang said...

Hi Ira, it seems we share the same view on this topic. It's sad, isn't it? Let's hope there will be some comeback of journalistic ethics in the near future.

Blogger.com remains blocked. I am using something called 'Tor' to visit it.

Ira said...

The more the western media keeps demonizing Chinese people and govt by distorting the facts and making stories, the more quickly they lose their reputation and respect they used to enjoy among Chinese netizen.

Aimee said...

Wierd- if it's not showing up on my blog, then I never got the comment. It is my policy to post every comment I receive unless it directly offends a specific person; I've been supportive of your work on this blog and your comments on mine. Please retry!
Anyway, great post.

Hang said...

Aimee, I enjoy reading your blog. No-showing-up comment is nothing. It could be a bug somewhere ...

Ira said...

The comment might be automatically deleted by blogger.com for some reason? I encountered similar situation when leaving a comment in a sina blog. In my comments, I left the hyperlink to my blog, the next day I checked the sina blog again and was surprised to see my comment was gone. I asked the blog host and she said it is sina's policy that comments that contain any hyperlink will be automatically removed by the system.

Thomas said...

Quote Hang: "I've watched the news on the Iran protests. I'm sure western media coverage was not well balanced for some obvious reason."

Don't compare China to Iran. You underestimate China if you do.

You won't find many Iranians living in Western countries that support the Iranian government.

Hang said...

Thomas, I was not comparing China to Iran. I was saying that I felt the media coverage was not well balanced. Musavi seemed to gain popularity with the western media. I supported neither side of the election in Iran. I am just an indifferent onlooker.

Dan said...

Good post - glad to have found your blog.

Couple of points to make here.

Using a completely unscientific methodology (but you get the idea), I would venture to say that 75% of the cause of this 'biased' reporting stems from (cultural, historical and linguistic) ignorance. Add to that 15% journalistic slovenliness. The final 10% could well be characterised as an 'active' anti-China bias or better put: a Western arrogance.

I find it astonishing that many of the frontline China correspondents across all forms of Western media don't actually speak decent Chinese.

Imagine how preposterously difficult it would be for a Chinese reporter to be posted to say, London, and report accurately, intelligently and with sufficient nuance on major events in British life...if he didn't personally speak the lingo well.

Yet that's the situation that obtains with most of the major Western news outlets. They have to rely on Chinese helpers to translate and interpret - but frankly, that isn't good enough.

You're right: we may have to wait another 10 years until we have all got over our 'China shock' and had our journos properly immersed in the culture.

Hang said...

Dan, thanks for stopping by. I agree with your analysis of the causes that have led to the bias.

It would be great and very helpful for a journalist to speak the local language. Being an English language learner myself, I've seen so much tacit knowledge (cultural, historical, social) connected to learning a foreign language. Hopefully, there will be more and more Chinese-speaking and open-minded foreign journalists reporting from China.