Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Attacks on CNN concerning its coverage of Tibet

John Kennedy at Global Voices writes:
. . . Chinese netizens worldwide seized onto initial misreported details from the situation in Tibet and don't seem willing to let this one go. In fact, they've declared cyberwar on major western media outlets, and anti-CNN.com is campaign headquarters.
I think we ought to examine what is meant by the term "Chinese netizen." But before I get to that point, I want to say something in defense of CNN. I think it is wrong to accuse CNN of "intentional bias" in its coverage of the events in Tibet in the immediate aftermath of the protests for several reasons:
  1. China's news media sources are routinely censored and notoriously unreliable. CNN simply could not take those reports at face value.
  2. CNN had no correspondents in Lhasa and had no access to any other correspondents' reports until an Economist reporter and other observers had made their way out of the country.

To attack the integrity of CNN under these difficult circumstances seems unfair. If China wants to see better, more accurate reporting from CNN and other news agencies out of China, the government of China should:

  1. Release those Chinese journalists, activists, and bloggers it has imprisoned;
  2. Allow foreign and local journalists to travel around the country freely;
  3. Stop censoring the Internet and tear down the Great Firewall.

Until these actions have been taken, criticisms of CNN "bias" emanating from China are somewhat misplaced. If CNN got the story wrong, the government of China is partly to blame.

Also, I think we ought to consider the strong likelihood that the recent attacks on the integrity of CNN are coordinated by the government of China. By some reports, China has tens of thousands of Internet censors. Perhaps the same people have been conscripted into disseminating the "party line" when they go online? Come to think of it, why wouldn't they have been?

Update: Most criticism of CNN and other coverage of the Tibet crisis by Western media sources concerns photographs that were cropped (excluding some acts of violence depicted in the cropped portion of the photo, often focusing on a single subject). This is very weak evidence for bias. Newsroom editors and webmasters make these kinds of decisions quickly. Moreover, whatever the photo, artistic values have to be weighted against news values.

A second accusation -- one in which CNN has not been faulted -- deserves to be taken a bit more seriously. This concerns the documented evidence that Indian or Nepali policeman were pictured adjacent to captions or stories describing the situation in Tibet, giving readers the impression that the officers pictured roughing up Tibetan demonstrators were Chinese soldiers (these demonstrations took place in India or Nepal). Although I do not consider this to be evidence of any "Western media conspiracy of lies," it does seem to point to a lack of professional rigor. (I noticed some of this sloppy journalism myself at the time). The most likely explanation? I suspect newsroom staff were themselves confused and mistakenly assumed the photos had been taken in Tibet.

New Update: I have written a follow-up to this post.


  1. There may not be intentional bias in reporting, but western media tends to report what it's viewers want to see. The American public feels threatened by China, and wants a reason to hate it. Tibet is just an excuse.

  2. I am an American Chinese and to me at least it's obvious that the American Media is biased against China in general. Before this, Wen Ho Lee comes to mind. Many newsroom people were fired for far less offenses when it comes to politics. There is no doubt that the Chinese government does censor free speech, but for the Western Media to do a sloppy job on reporting such an important news item, then to jump on the Free Speech high horse is simply disgraceful.
    If anything, Western media's attempts to force free speech in China in this case has united many Chinese netizens who are usually against the government on free of speech issues to be pro-Chinese government. This is ironic to say the least.

  3. ooooh
    I like to see and read "like it is" not nicely manicured to suit China or any other country where freedom of speech means parroting what the government preaches. It has nothing to do with feelings...

    BTW Jot, the other day I bought a T-shirt made in Honduras.. ain't that jolly good? I do not hate China, I simply want quality for my coin$$$. :)

  4. In no way I am trying to defend the behavior of the Chinese government. However, there is no denying that CNN has faked and mislead the audience. Lack of info source is one thing. Purposefully mislead audience is another. If you don't know what's going on, then say you don't know what's going on. Chinese government's lack of transparency is not an excuse for consistenly calling violent riots "peaceful demostration", cropping a picture to suit their story or falsefully claiming chinese police violence while posting Indian or Nepalese police pictures.

  5. The American Media serves the ultimate goal of harming a rising China, to achieve this it lies and
    distorts facts, there is nothing new in it.

  6. Anonymous wrote:
    The American Media serves the ultimate goal of harming a rising China, to achieve this it lies and distorts facts, there is nothing new in it.

    I guess I had not been informed this this was its "ultimate goal."

    Because the Western media has served as an advertising platform for global companies selling made -in-China goods, contributing to the fastest and most massive transfer of wealth and industrial-know-how in the history of the world.

    What has China done for the Western media in return? It denies its reporters access to various parts of the country, and makes it impossible for Chinese consumers to access the fruits of Western news reports -- including reports which have investigated the plight of the Chinese peasantry, the destruction of China's environment, the corruption that impedes China's growth, and shortcoming in the rule-of-law that have left Chinese people -- especially the poor -- without access to justice.

    Around the whole world, who has been the very best friend of the Chinese people? I would say it's the Western news media.

  7. what good lines of excuses :) black could be turned into white whenever you want. western medias are never giving up undermining the fame of China, according to what i experienced in Europe over years. i would say you western people were brainwashed and fooled like you think for Chinese.

  8. "Your comment has been saved and will be visible after blog owner approval." could it be called 'censor'? comments are often censored, not only in China. as far as i know, canadian webs do also.

  9. Hey Jotman, I've been a Chinese American for many years and am very familiar with the severely biased views against China by US media. I believe that, at least for the most part, resulted in the distrust of the western media in general by the Chinese government, who declined request of foreign media coverage in Tibet. Who would want to invite a hostile guest into one's home? But I believe China will eventually get used to all kinds of criticisms from the international community and be more like the US.

  10. According to your blog, I come this conclusion:

    If I have no access to Country A, and I start to talk in public that Country A is having racial cleansing against its minorities. It wont' be that big a deal, since I do not have access to it.

  11. tibet is only paradise for people who can afford to fly in and stay in 4 or 5 star hotel with hot water and service for one or two weeks. That exotic religion and culture and people and their backward of living are just wonderful to entertain your eyes, your brain, your imagination and your adventurous spirit unlimited. I assume that covers most of western journalist and tourist and the alike, and some Chinese too like myself. There is no need for you to understand the long history between Tibet and rest of China, because the paradise like picture would be stained by starvation, slavery, blooding wars and religion depression existed centuries of centuries in Tibet. and obviously there would absolutely no fun to imagine one day that beautiful mysterious land to be converted to like some place you see and live everyday, say downtown Chicago? NO you do not want do that. You want a ZOO or a LIVING THEME PARK so entertainable, even you are not there but thousands and thousands miles away, just simply the world Tibet would mustabate your mind strong enough to send that thrill to quench your wildest dream.

    What about the people who call Tibet home? I really do not know any of them personally so I would not speak for them. But I would really ask westerners and BBC and CNN on a few questions.

    1. “Regulated religion” is excellent, It separates religious figures and influence from government. It limits the number of monks who do not work to create food where food is extremely scares. It also takes way excessive land from temple and given to farmers. Isn’t one of the greatest achievements in modern western history that helped to end the dark age is the separation of church from government? Wouldn’t Dalah Lama be imprisoned in western country and called evil if he runs his kingdom from his church?

    2. “Force permanent settlement” is a beautiful thing. So finally Tibetans have access to basic service like education, modern medicine, city water etc first time in their history. Aren’t the shining metropolitans in western countries are the symbol of modern civilization?

    3. “Chinese are smothering Tibetan aboriginal culture” is called enrichment and enlightenment, people! The reason we human being have advanced so much in last 4 hundred years more than previous 4 thousands years combined, is because the fast speed and vast volume of new culture and knowledge being transferred among all continents. Even as you author is writing this website, western countries and their corporations relentlessly try to teach and transfer “democracy”, “free speech”, “Motorola Cellphone”, “McDonnal’s Big Mac combo”, “Boeing Jumbo jets”, “Las Vegas 3-day trip” etc, to China and Chinese, aren’t you author worried about smothering Chinese culture? Aren’t the Chinese worried? Put everything aside, through the long history, Tibet has always been importing and exporting religion, books and language, medicine, even husbands and wives with rest of China. There weren’t concerns because there weren’t BBC nor CNN nor western human right people back then.

    4.“large immigrating Han Chinese population who fight resources and jobs against Tibetans” is based on the fact that jobs are created! There were no jobs in the past. Either you are the chief or monk who live in temple, and own the land and the creature called slaves who plow the dirt, or you were the slave who plow the dirt to gladly feed the chiefs and monks, especially some big monks like Dalah Lama, who has all the good free time in his ivory tower to read and study the mysterous scripts, and to adress and speak elegantly to charm his guests who travelled long distance to his kingdom to find the origin of life and universe. Well, if you were the slave, your only “job” is to feed them well so that they can lead and present Tibet. That is okay, because westerners think this is just cool.

  12. "To attack the integrity of CNN under these difficult circumstances seems unfair".

    Weren't they supposed to check the facts before showing it.

    What kind of credibility do the westerns have. They attaked China in 1840 for burning their opium. They killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Iraqis under the excuse of destroying Sadam's WMD. Where is the WMDs? Why hasn't CNN and other western media hit US as hard as it did to China?


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