Thursday, April 24, 2014
Old formulas shape foreign coverage of China
Global Times | July 24, 2011 21:20
By Lu Jingxian
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Illustration: Liu Rui

Jianguomenwai Diplomatic Compound, near Chang'an Avenue in the center of Beijing, isn't widely known outside the small world of Beijing expats. However, it is where the majority of the Chinese coverage of foreign media is produced. The compound hosts the China offices of some of the world's top media, as it has done for up to three decades.

China outside the Compound has gone through tremendous changes during the years. But while following an opening China, foreign media has persistently kept to a few stereotypes of China, which often puzzles and sometimes enrages, Chinese. For some Chinese, the foreign media's one purpose is to shame China. Of course, foreign journalists reject the allegation.

When I raise the subject with some correspondents, I got sympathetic answers like "the coverage objective," or "the purpose of media is to expose wrongdoing." They like to focus on the negative side of the society because they "care."

But what happens if we apply these principles elsewhere?

A widely popular media group who persistently expose the dark side of the powerful is facing government criticism recently. More heavy-handed measures are expected to be taken to bring this media group to its knee. It's just another example of how freedom of speech could be endangered in the country. Despite the pressure, the pioneering leader has showed his perseverance. Before this shake-up, the group ran the most popular newspaper in the country and wielded huge political influence.

A familiar story that periodically emerges in the foreign media's coverage of China, right? But I am actually talking about the recent scandal of News International in the UK and the US. If it happened in China, Murdoch would have been portrayed as a hero by the foreign media for challenging the government.

Religion is another topic that could easily touch the nerves of Chinese in foreign press coverage.

A possible example. The antipathy toward Islam has run to such a degree that one man called for burning the Koran, and the proposal has received support from others nationwide and had top officials rushed to quell the situation. Religious division troubles the country deeply and the situation could be really intense during important occasions.

That's a hypothetical news story in China. The real story is Terry Jones, a preacher from Florida, who unnerved US politicians by trying to set up the International Burn a Koran Day prior to 9/11 anniversary last year. The US media depicted it as an isolated case with careful efforts to contain it from developing into a bigger event.

There can hardly be absolute objectivity. Perhaps all depends on how deeply the reporter tries to politicize an issue. If people wanted to see the situation as negative, then they could depict the US situation as if the country is on the verge of falling apart.

It is easy to imagine. The US political system is in deep crisis. Partisan struggle drags the country further down in the economic mire. The existing system is facing increasing challenges from the Tea Party, representing the simmering anger and dissatisfaction of the public. Protests and demonstrations are on the rise, including deadly shootings.

The list could go on.

Inside the Jianguomenwai Diplomatic Compound, foreign correspondents come and go. They may still hold on to the canon they believe in. But they would be na?ve if they assume their reports will still convince the world.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.

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