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Western media bias on Τibet?

In response to a comment left on an earlier post, I’ve posted a new essay at The China Beat on western media bias and the ongoing situation in Τibet. (Mainland link)

It’s true that following the outbreak of unrest on March 14, many in the foreign media dropped the ball, in some cases due to lazy or mistaken reporting, in others as the result of preconceived notions of the situation and a misunderstanding of the complexities in the Sino-Tibetan relationship. Meanwhile, coverage in the Chinese state media was little better in its histrionic attempts to portray the Dalai Lama as a demonic mastermind bent on splitting China and “re-imposing a slave society” on Tibetans. Chinese netizen response was sparked by justifiable outrage at faulty and biased foreign coverage of the event, but was also the product of an environment where the Party line is the only possible interpretation of either historical or contemporary ‘reality.’ Unfortunately, I fear this is not the last time in this Olympic year that competing expectations and perceptions, by the Chinese state and public on one side and the foreign media on the other, will result in unpleasantness.”

Once again, I’m going to suggest that rather than leave comments here, readers can go over to The China Beat website, read the essay in its entirety, and join in the discussion there. (Though obviously if the GFW makes that problematic, feel free to leave a comment here.)

9 Comments on Western media bias on Τibet?

  1. I have very limited sympathy with the Chinese complaints about the Western media. It seems to me they are rather trying to make a mountain out of a molehill through their endless dissection of a handful of instances of sloppy or tendentious journalism (mostly concerned with the slightly misleading use of photos from Kathmandu in stories mainly focused on Lhasa). It’s just a diversionary tactic.

    For sure, there is always some bias in the media: reporting is coloured by a particular political stance towards the events. In this instance, the political stance of the Western media is particularly homogeneous, and particularly incompatible with the prevalent Chinese viewpoint.

    Westerners are, on the whole, sympathetic towards Tibetan grievances; disquieted by, though perhaps not strongly condemnatory of, the extremes of violence to which some Tibetans have resorted; strongly disapproving of the Chinese government’s policies which have led to this massive outbreak of unrest, of the heavy-handedness of the current crackdown, of the restriction of access to the affected areas for the Western media, and of the Chinese leadership’s intransigence in addressing the issue.

    What I find most disturbing is that the Chinese response doesn’t really seem to have a political stance on most of those points; there is simply a refusal to acknowledge their existence, or at any rate to enter into any discussion on them. “Grievances? What grievances? Reporting restrictions? What reporting restrictions?”

  2. Hey Jeremiah, I’ve been playing with my new WordPress installation and I found a plugin I think you’d like:

  3. And I apologise – I was on autopilot when I left that post here. I should transfer it over to The China Beat, to kick off the discussion there….. maybe.

  4. There is writing that has a point of view, there is writing that shows a bias or prejudice of the writer or editor, and there is blatant lying.

    I have been studying chinese language with mostly teachers from the mainland. Often class discussion turns to chinese politics or history. Most of the teachers are 30, 40, 50. Our discussions never became controversial, but recently I have come into contact with 20 somethings from the mainland, all with rather warped ideas about their own government and the world.

    You really have to wonder what the PRC is planning to do after the olympics. They seem to have been filling the young ones with a lot of zeal to secure the motherland, which seems to include Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang, and a strong influence over the vassal state of Korea.

  5. In China, the human right it not great, but what about America, and all the other western countries, don’t tell me the government is treating everyone as equal all the time. In western countries it is also about the majority that counts, what about the minority, do they always have a say? I don’t think so. My point is when you start yapping about another country’s human rights record,you better make sure your own country’s is clean also. Some of the people out there who criticize China really don’t know what they are talking about. In the West, I almost never ever had seen anything positive about China. But the truth and the fact is, the CCP government has done more good to its people than bad over the past 2 decades. Today, China is developing to improve its society in various aspects. China is much more open to the world than it was 30 years before and dramatic changes happened. The situation of the world has moved on, but unfortunately the mood of the cold war persists. Some western media still work hard to emphasize the “devilish nature of communism”. China has constantly been devilized by medias and is under double standard under many issues. Why should the western society criticize China intensely while they are having or have had similar problems? My perception is that many well developed western societies have fear for the rise of a new powerful competitor.

  6. Emma,

    You might be interested in reading the article under discussion, I think you’ll find my response to your comment there. I’m slightly troubled that you chose to post without having read first.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and suggest that I do feel it is my responsibility to write, teach, and talk about human rights problems when they occur, in my own country, in US-occupied Iraq, in Europe, in Africa, and yes, even in China.

    Human beings are endowed with critical reasoning skills, and we should use those skills to ensure that all people, no matter where they might live, should enjoy the rights to speak, write, and question freely, to receive a good education in the language of their choice, to worship as they see fit, to live in a society free of the fear of government repression, and when those rights have been infringed to seek redress through an independent and impartial judiciary.

    There are few countries, if any, that meet all of those requirements, but shouldn’t one of our first duties as members of the same human race be to work toward that goal?

    In many ways nationalism, especially extreme nationalism, can be an enemy to change, freedom, and human progress. (An idea not out of place in the Chinese intellectual tradition, see the writings of Kang Youwei 康有为, especially his reinterpretation of the 大同.)

    Perhaps that’s one reason all governments love their patriots.

  7. This is a great site which I stumbled on a few days ago.

    My interest in Chinese history, which is very poor, has been kindled by recent events in Tibet and by the reaction to them not only from the predictable CCP but also from Chinese posters who seem, in general, to toe the party line.

    What I have noticed from reading these reactions is how the Chinese seem to invest a lot of trust in what the media – be they Chinese or western – tell them.

    Perhaps many westerners are like this too, but I think far more people, at least in democratic countries, are aware that there is shoddy journalism, that there are biases in reporting depending on newspapers, and that it is ultimately down to the readers or viewers themselves to sift through the clutter. That might be the reason why these sorts of people don’t feel terribly let down when media outlets distort the facts.

    A few days ago I pursued discussion about China’s claims on Tibet with a Chinese contributor to a post on the internet. He referred me triumphantly to the Chinese state archives, which had issued documents to support the assertion that ‘Tibet is an inalienable part of China’.

    When I retorted by conducting a bit of source criticism, and the possible political motivations that lay behind the publication of these documents, I was then referred to footage of US Military films, produced at the height of WWII, which, he proudly boasted, ‘proved’ that even the US at one time recognised Tibet as part of China as if this counted as evidence.

    When I kicked off the discussion, I expected a more robust retort to the distinction I had made between, for example, an Empire and nation-states and the importance of what one exactly means by China. But I was completely taken aback that he would come up with what he regarded as evidence which was secondary – if that – and that he was oblivious to the situation that he was on much firmer ground when he pointed me to the primary archival sources.

    It was also highly ironic that here was a Chinese man, who was venomously critical of the west, but who had no scruples about soliciting the support of an old US propaganda film in support of his claims about Chinese ownership of Tibet.

    Of course I think it would be possible to say, as Froog has done, that he was intentionally selecting things that suited his beliefs. But I was more struck by the unsophisticated manner in which he did this and how blissfully unaware he was that he was only helping himself shoot himself in the foot. He even claimed that the US footage was not ‘propaganda’ but an ‘information film’.

    But then I suddenly realised that it could be that he was merely in awe of authority – that if the government, be it Chinese or Western, said it was true it had to be.

    While I realise this to be a bit of a generalisation, I felt this might lie at the heart of the Chinese reaction to western reporting. By reacting in such a way I think the Chinese assume that western viewers and readers accept rather uncritically what they are fed, when in fact they do not really.

    All of which leads me to suspect that Chinese anger is merely a flip-side of their own costoms and conceptions of the media. The genie, if you like, has not been let out of the bottle. But then again this might be a reflection of my own ignorance: surely the Chinese are critical of what the media tell them too?

    Sorry for this long post and sudden intrusion. I hope to drop by again soon.

    From a modern European history.

    PS Do you also know where I might get hold of a good, up-to-date reading list of modern Chinese history?

  8. Scholl,

    Thanks for your very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. It can be frustrating to argue these points with nationalists, their arguments tend to be hard-wired and the idea of multiple perspectives or critical appraisal of sources and ideas are sometimes thought of as some sort of western-inspired ideological/intellectual trap.

    The acceptance of authority though is an interesting perspective and one I hadn’t thought of, though it does fit into what I see as the negative side effects of the information and education environment created by the authoritarian Leninist state.

    It’s a great subject. As for your PS, this is a post I’ve been meaning to do for awhile. Watch this space in the coming weeks for some of my suggestions.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  9. I believe it is true that a lot of people, at least in countries such as Canada or the US, are quite aware of the many angles and sides of journalism. While it may seem frustrating to those who are use to that type of information environment to see how others react in such a way as the case above, it is not that hard to understand. Some of those reactions are obviously related to encouragement by the authorities, others to nationalstic sentiments, but there are quite a lot of Chinese on the mainland who are not politically motivated yet would respond the same because like any other person in other countries, people do not like to be portray in such a light.

    The other thing I want to mention is yes. The Chinese people, on the Mainland, HK or Macau, are quite critical of media. Both internal and external sources. Sometimes, it might be due to cultural reasons or other motives, what they express to others face to face may not be the same as what they are actually feeling and thinking. It is most likely within the inner circle of friends and family that will understand and know about it rather than people outside it. There is a very strong tradition of not accepting everything the authorties say, despite efforts from whoever and when the time era was, modern and ancient.

    Overall speaking, bias in media is quite evident where ever it may be. However, it is not unusual nor un-rational for there to be strong reactions to whatever is being reported. Of course, it would have to be within reason and hopefully with a cool head, but people are people.

    I would like to comment in depth regarding basic human rights, but I’m afraid it may be too much and uncomfortable for others to view them. The truth is that in order to provide decent education to the majority of the population, just providing it would require not only resources but a lot of effort to both the educators and especially the students. Corruption happens everywhere to a certain degree, and that too requires a lot of effort and sometimes justice does not get administered, wherever the courts are. It doesn’t mean all hope is lost but it really requires a lot of hard work that many people overlooked or take for granted.

    I’ve heard many phrases of how to judge a society, but I think it is much too complex to simplify in words. To live in a society and seperate yourselfs a bit and return might be the closests way I can think of at the moment that can possibly help understand a community. One has to be able to distinguish what is reality and idealistic.

    So much to say, but enough of my rant.

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