Media: March 2008 Archives

CNN defends itself

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cnn_war_announcement_1991.jpg CNN has decided to issue a statement regarding the criticism it has received online and elsewhere:

CNN has been singled out for criticism for our coverage of events in Tibet through an Web site and elsewhere. We have provided comprehensive coverage of all sides of this story, but two specific allegations relate to pro-Tibetan bias. We would like to take this chance to respond to them:

Allegation 1: CNN intentionally cropped an image in order to remove Tibetan protesters throwing stones at Chinese trucks.
CNN refutes all allegations by bloggers that it distorts its coverage of the events in Tibet to portray either side in a more favorable light. We have consistently and repeatedly shown all sides of this story. The one image in question was used wholly appropriately in the specific editorial context and there could be no confusion regarding what it was showing, not least because it was captioned: "Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles on a street in the capital Lhasa." The picture gallery included in Tibet stories includes the image. (See the gallery)
We have also published images showing violence by Tibetans against the Chinese. A March 18 story shows Tibetan youths attacking a Chinese man. (Read the story)
Additionally, we have published video from the Chinese media apparently showing Tibetans attacking Chinese interests in Lhasa. (Watch the video)
Allegation 2: CNN referred to Tibet as a "country."
CNN's policy is to refer to Tibet as "Tibet Autonomous Region of China." In our dozens of stories on the topic to date, we are aware of only two instances where it was incorrectly referenced as a country.
CNN's reputation is based on reporting global news accurately and impartially, while our coverage through the use of words, images or video always reflects a wide range of opinions and points of view on every story.

Nobody on this blog dislikes China, and nobody wants to see China fail. In fact, in discussions with friends, relatives, and colleagues overseas, almost all of us defend China against unfair criticism or accusations (obviously much more recently, as the Tibet situation has unfolded). China is a complicated place, and there are no easy answers.

But man, this stuff is getting harder and harder to defend. Western news organizations in China have been called repeatedly and harassed over their apparently biased news coverage:

CNN was the chief target of the Chinese ire, but hardly any western press escaped the torrent of rage. Their anger even spilled over to the New York Times and Washington Post, which Chinese consider, or used to consider, beacons of journalism. Staff at the papers' Beijing offices have been busy answering anonymous, angry phone calls and enduring a torrent of insults. As the Xinhua News Agency puts it, western press has "intentionally played tricks on photos and TV footage to mislead the audience" and the "biased reports by western press is the result of infiltration by political force." A website ( was established to "gather, sort through, and publish evidence of the EVILS of mainstream western media."
Similar comments can be found on any online bulletin board discussing the incident. "The time has passed when the western countries could try covering the sky with the lies of a few filthy mouthpieces," wrote one anonymous commentator. The revolutionary fever and provocative slogans are most familiar to people who have lived through the Cultural Revolution and they still work pretty well--the campaign attracted thousands of supporters in only a couple of days.
Is this how the majority of people in China feel? When I tentatively raised the topic with a long-time friend, who is well-educated and mild in manner, I was immediately cut short by a righteous lecture. "What do you have to complain about hostile phone calls?" he said. "Those shameless western mouthpieces deserved it! And It's only for the best that CNN and BBC are blacked out so your lot could not pollute those weak-minded Chinese with your lies!"

And lest anybody think these are polite calls expressing distaste for western journalism procedures, the TIME China blog sets us straight according to an Internet post it has found:

"The phone is our weapon," he writes, then advises people to "Phone them to death. If someone answers, uses Chinese English to ask about their mothers, then hang up. If no one answers, keep calling so they can't receive calls or make them. Drown the sons of bitches with noise!" 『传媒江湖』 [焦点评论]拿起电话 呼死 XXXX (转载) 作者:scqx88 提交日期:2008-3-24 21:55:00   电话就是我们的武器, 呼死 XXXX,  如果有人接, 请用中英文问候他老妈, 然后挂掉,  如果没人接, 就一直打, 这样让他们没电话进也没电话出, 吵死这帮狗杂种!

Look... I will be the first one to say that Chinese people have a right to question the coverage they receive (although, from time to time, it would be nice if they took their newfound dedication to fair and unbiased journalism practises and focused it at their own domestic press). However, calling these news organizations and hanging up, or insulting them, is childish, and completely unbecoming of a great nation. The people that engage in this kind of petty behaviour not only have little effect on the journalists they torment, but also hurt the image and genuine concerns of the people they claim to represent (ie. the Chinese people).

Complaining is your right. Being upset is your right. But handle it in a mature and adult fashion. Call and discuss what you don't like. Make suggestions and constructive criticism. Write letters to CNN headquarters in Atlanta. I'm afraid the receptionist who picks up the phone in Beijing can't be of much help.

If the Chinese people are concerned about their image in the west (and I'm not saying they are), this doesn't help. And neither does this.

Let's hope this is just an aberration.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for _44512835_bbcchinese203.jpg It seems that Xi'an is where it's at for the BBC. At least, that is, in terms of web-blocking--user reports pinpoint the city as where it all became accessible first. But now a slightly more surprising bit of information has been thrown into the mix: BBC Chinese is reportedly unblocked in Xi'an, according to users reporting to the Chinese Service:

According to the BBC, Xi'an users say mainland Internet users in Xi'an can access the BBC Chinese network, but Beijing netizens say they are still unable to see the BBC Chinese network.

As the Chinese Service correctly identifies, the site is not easily accessible in Beijing. Yet there have been some reports saying the site loads in the capital.

danwei_ps_2.jpg Western media bias has come to the fore in recent days with the launch of the Anti-CNN website, which outlines some of the apparent western media bias with regards to the unrest in Tibet. The Chinese mainstream media have picked up on the theme, and have run stories criticizing western outlets for not fact-checking their material.

There is no doubt that the cases cited are abhorrent examples of what journalism should aspire to be. Anytime simple facts are incorrect, or photos mislabelled, it shows carelessness and a lack of attention to the craft. Anybody who labels Nepalese police as Chinese, labels protests in Nepal as protests in Lhasa, or artfully crops photographs to alter the context (all of which happened) should face full criticism of not only the Chinese, but anyone who cares about free speech, fairness, and objectivity.

Mistakes made in the western media were timely, as it nicely coincided with Tuesday night's Danwei Plenary Session. I attended along with fellow Zhongnanhai writer Chris, and we both came away rather impressed with the guests, the audience questions, and the nuanced discussion which followed. There are, however, a couple of things I'd humbly like to add on this general topic, if not on the Plenary itself.

First, there must be tens of thousands of stories, photos, and videos of the unrest in Tibet. Mistakes should never be tolerated, but if, in that avalanche of coverage in this digital era, only a handful of examples of bias have been discovered, I would say that strengthens the argument that the western media generally does a decent job.

Second, an audience member asked a question regarding the use of the word "crackdown", and more specifically why western journalists use this word in relation to Tibet, but not in relation to the semi-recent riots in France. I met up with a few colleagues for hot pot afterwards, and we got into an interesting debate on this word. I generally feel "crackdown" doesn't necessarily come with negative connotations. For example, a Chinese "crackdown" on DVD piracy is generally believed to be a good thing (well, unless you like stocking up at the Lido). The problem, we felt, is that "crackdown" reminds people of the non-event in a big square in Beijing in 1989. To western minds, I would submit, a "crackdown in Tibet" conjures up images of peaceful monks praying for a modicum of freedom and peace while big, burly Chinese military officers come in to crack some skulls. If this is the perceived notion, then journalists should be careful when using the word "crackdown".

Jonathan Watts, the correspondent for the Guardian newspaper (who was filling in for an absent Jaime FlorCruz from CNN), said that he has struggled to use the correct terminology in his stories. Are the Tibetans rioters or protesters? Are the Chinese "cracking down" or "restoring order"? He said that he's used nearly all the terms, and makes a judgement call based on that individual situation. I believe that's as best as can be asked.

Lindsey Hilsum, the China correspondent for Britain's Channel 4 News, said the biggest problem isn't the terminology or bias but rather the lack of access to Tibet. Whether it was a crackdown, riot, protest, or civil disorder, no journalist can label anything properly unless they get access to the region. Unfortunately, that hadn't happened at the time of the plenary (it was reported later that journalists are now trickling into Tibet).

The other two panelists, Raymond Zhou from the China Daily and Steven Lin from Sohu also provided unique insights. Raymond feels that western journalists spend too much time focusing on issues like censorship and democracy. Both feel a free press would be good for China, but must be introduced slowly. They also feel that foreign reporters tend to gravitate towards the negative.

Generally speaking, I don't believe the foreign journalists based in China have been churning out biased coverage. In fact, of all the foreign media, those who have lived and worked in China will most likely provide the most nuances to their coverage - which is why it's surprising the government wouldn't allow them into Tibet. There are a number of western commentators based in the UK, America, and other countries that like to bloviate on China's crimes without having much understanding of the country. I might not like it, perhaps the Chinese don't like it, and maybe Danwei doesn't either, but in a free-speech environment they're entitled to their opinions, too. If China is confident in itself, it must allow these reporters into the region to verify the government's word. If the Chinese authorities can't manage that, then suspicions are raised and fodder is given to its harshest critics.

Finally, slightly off topic, I was a guest on Adler Online, a nationally-syndicated Canadian radio show, at 2 o'clock Tuesday morning (gotta love that time difference) to discuss Tibet. His producer called me for a chat prior to the segment, and her anger at China was vitriolic. She favors a boycott of the Olympic games. I reckon the host of the program, Charles Adler, does too. Following our segment, he took calls from Canadians to get their opinions. 100% of the callers (the phone segment was only 15 minutes in length) favoured a complete Olympic boycott by the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Feelings on the subject of Tibet are obviously running deep. While I tend to consider "moral equivalency" a convenient but often inaccurate crutch when two sides are firmly entrenched, both sides of this dispute nontheless need to look in the mirror, calm down, and begin making efforts to understand the other.

Journalists are caught in the middle, and whether Chinese or foreign, their jobs are under that much more scrutiny on such a polarizing issue.

(Note: You can listen to the interview on the national edition of Adler Online via its flagship station, CJOB in Winnipeg. Go here, click on Mon Mar 24, 1pm. The interview will start following the 5 minute hourly news.)

Behold! The Beeb!

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When I first arrived in China over two years ago, I was somewhat irked by the fact that I was unable to get my daily dose of news from the BBC. Now after using hundreds of Proxies, and investing in a VPN -- What happens? You guessed it. It's unblocked -- kind of. It seems as though the firewall is still in place for Chinese language services on the website and for any links in Chinese.

'People in China are able to access English language stories on the BBC News website in full, after years of strict control by Beijing.

The Communist authorities often block news sites such as the BBC in a policy dubbed the "great firewall of China".

But BBC staff working in China now say they are able to access news stories that would have been blocked before.'

Now, the cynic in me questions the reasoning behind this. And bear with me here. Could it be that this website has become unblocked as part of a 'knee jerk' reaction to the fact that Media coverage of recent events has, at best, been 'questionable due in part, to the fact that foreign journalists have been denied access to these troubled areas? And that the authorities are trying to give a 'balanced' viewpoint to those that can read English? Or, is it another way to inflame people by saying: 'Look, this is what they're saying...'

Or are we seeing the start of the 'Opening Up' policy in the final countdown to the Olympics? If so, why have the BBC been rejected by the Chinese government as part of the foreign media organisations trip to Tibet?

Full article available here.

A chat with 'Kevin'

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With posting light of late, I figured I'd pass along this video. It features CCTV 9 rabblerouser Rui Chenggang, who earned his 15 minutes of fame by calling for Starbucks to be removed from the Forbidden City, interviewing then-Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd.

Rudd shows off his Chinese ability, which is clearly impressive. The question is, why does Rui Chenggang look completely disinterested in the interview? He wears a pained expression that seems to indicate somebody interrupted him from something much more important and ordered him behind the anchor desk against his will. Worse, he refers to the opposition leader as "Kevin". If he had a chance to interview Senator McCain about Sino-US relations, would he simply call him "John"?

Perhaps I'm picking on CCTV 9 a little bit, but that's what happens when it's a slow news day. And, this video isn't particularly worse than any other random video which could've been lifted from the station. And I'll stress again, the quality issues at CCTV 9 aren't usually the fault of the employees (although there are lots of examples of this, too), but rather upper management.

As an aside, if anybody gets a copy of a certain report that CCTV 9 ran introducing Beijing's new airport, I'd love to have a personal copy. As funny as CCTV 9 can be, this was the only time that three friends and I (also current and former CCTV 9 employees) were literally in tears amid gales of laughter.

(Full Disclosure: I was an employee of CCTV 9 from June 2005 to March 2006.)

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This page is a archive of entries in the Media category from March 2008.

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