Thursday, April 3, 2008

"But is the bias wrong?"

Many Chinese are outraged over supposed Western "bias" in media coverage of the Tibet crisis. A Western journalist responds to the allegations:

Sure, it is easy to jump from these errors to "the western media is biased and hates China so why don't you just go and leave us alone". But that, as far as I can see, is pretty much it. Why are we biased? How are we biased? What, specifically, are we saying or not saying about China and Tibet that so offends? What, apart from these pictures, have we got wrong? . . .

A release through Xinhua says a policeman somewhere has been killed by rioters. We report this. But how easy is it coherently to quiz anyone about how, why and when this occurred? Will an eye-witness account be given? Will an honest assessment of injuries on both sides be given? When we ask, in what direction were the retaliatory shots fired, who was running where, do we get a response? There is no-one to give one. Phones are hung up. Spokesmen churn out one-liners, platitudes and what my old assistant used to call "nonsense-speak" which no-one believes. The government would rather not give us a narrative than give us one that we can pick at.

The pro-Tibet people, on the other hand, do answer their telephones (both the campaigns and the government). They engage in questioning. They differentiate between the claims of which they are certain, the claims they attribute to eye-witness reports, and the claims they say are second-hand and unverified. They seek to make what they say coherent and comprehensible.

They may not always be right, and to be sure they have an agenda, but the attempt to make sense at least wins some of our sympathy (though a surprising number of journalists remain suspicious of them).

And they do this not just when there is a crisis, but before and after as well. This allows the media to build up a narrative that we understand, and it is not surprising if, when crisis strikes and the government says that what we are seeing fits a different but unexplained narrative, we don't feel inclined to take it on trust.

But still, you might say, that narrative remains biased. As I say, maybe. But you should ask more properly, is the bias wrong?
The article contains other nuggets of insight concerning Western press coverage of China and the Chinese reaction. It's by Richard Spencer, the Telegraph's correspondent in Beijing.
Richard Spencer, Telegraph

1 comment:

  1. AnonymousMay 05, 2008

    Is it wrong? I would like to know the answer from a professional reporter.


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