. . . 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:
- China's news media sources are routinely censored and notoriously unreliable. CNN simply could not take those reports at face value.
- 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:
- Release those Chinese journalists, activists, and bloggers it has imprisoned;
- Allow foreign and local journalists to travel around the country freely;
- 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.