Friday, March 18, 2016

Quotable: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian on Chinese media bias

Thursday, March 17th 2016

“The one-two punch of censorship plus propaganda has discredited Western journalism in the eyes of many Chinese,” reported Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian in a March 4, 2016, article, How China Won the War Against Western Media,” in Foreign Policy.  Here are more of her comments:

  • Just how biased do Chinese think Western media is against China? Wang Qiu, a member of China’s legislature and head of state-owned broadcaster China National Radio,claimed he had an answer: Sixty percent of all mainstream Western media reports smear China.

  • Many Chinese share the idea that Western media outlets don’t cover China fairly. Chinese state media outlets and Chinese government spokespeople regularly claim that Western media plays up China’s weaknesses, exaggerates its potential as a regional threat, and ignores its successes.

  • . . . it’s odd that, in a country which ranks a dismal 176 out of 180 for media freedoms, comes in last in an 88-country ranking for Internet freedom, and which operates the largest state propaganda apparatus in the world, the conversation regularly centers around perceived media bias elsewhere.

  • The ubiquity of this idea is the result of what has been one of Chinese state media’s most successful propaganda campaigns — so effective that the term “Western media” in Chinese often has a negative connotation.

  • . . . while U.S. news tends to slant towards the negative and the sensational — making its critical coverage of China a normal feature of the media landscape, rather than an outlier — Chinese news is characterized by intrusive, state-mandated ideological and political bias.

  • Articles presenting Chinese policies in a positive light are published by Communist Party fiat, overly critical articles are often removed, and the offending journalists sometimes punished. . . . Media bias against China is not a foregone conclusion, but rather a rhetorical tool that Chinese authorities use alongside censorship to fight for control of the national narrative.

  • A judgment of U.S. media coverage of China is inadequate without also considering how U.S. media covers the United States. Reviewing headlines from the past several years, it’s easy to cobble together a near-apocalyptic vision of life in the world’s wealthiest nation – that U.S infrastructure, U.S. politics, the health care systemsociety, and capitalism itself are irreparably broken. It’s hardly surprising when such a critical, sensational eye is turned on China (and Russia, and Kenya, and Sweden, and the Philippines, and Paris, and even Indonesian toddlers.) Scathing indictments and dire predictions are daily bread for anyone who follows domestic U.S. news.

  • With a media environment like this, it’s little wonder that Chinese officials and media workers can find what they present as evidence of “Western media” bias against China on any given day of the year.

  • But Chinese news consumers aren’t used to the barrage of negativity. They’re accustomed to Chinese domestic coverage of China, which is overwhelmingly supportive of government policies.

  • . . . Chinese state media provides detailed coverage of certain U.S. domestic issues, such as gun violence and racial strife, portraying democracy as a form of government inherently prone to chaos. While domestic Chinese protests and ethnic conflict are usually highly censored in Chinese media and social media, some Chinese news sites featured articles about the 2014 Ferguson protests in top slots on their homepages.

  • . . . for many Chinese, tightly scripted domestic media is the only kind of news available. Chinese government regulators have blocked, in whole or in part, the websites and Chinese language editions of many major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Le Monde. Only those who regularly surf the Internet using software designed to circumvent online controls are able to access blocked sites — meaning most Chinese hear about such foreign news coverage through the lens of domestic Chinese news, which dominates the airwaves, online news, and social media.

  • Kneejerk accusations of Western media bias aren’t just nationalist bluster; they’re a vital aspect of information control.

Author: Donald M. Bishop

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