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Sensationalism no substitute for real news

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-7 23:23:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Almost a month has passed since Malaysian Airline flight MH370 went missing, and the Malaysian government, which has been leading the search effort, still has no solid details about its location.

The lengthy disappearance of the plane, which carried mostly Chinese citizens, has transformed the pains and concerns of their relatives into resentment and anger. Such feelings are also shared by many Chinese netizens, who have criticized and even abused the Malaysian government on social media. There is even a heated verbal fight going on between Chinese Internet users and their Malaysian counterparts.

It is quite understandable that the fight is an inevitable result of days of anxiety, but the flames have extended too far and risk backfiring. Instead of attacking the rescue efforts made by the Malaysian government, many voices on the Internet, especially social media, have claimed that Malaysia, as a whole community, should bear the brunt of the outrage and take all responsibility.

On the Chinese Internet, a new meaning has even been added to the simple word for "Malaysia," which now represents irresponsibility and unreliability.

Catchphrases such as "don't go too 'Malaysian'" have gone viral on the Chinese Internet. Even when a famous Chinese actor's love affair was exposed by the media, netizens called his betrayal to his family a "Malaysian" act.

Malaysia is not the first to be treated like this. Following the March 14 riots in Tibet in 2008, CNN's reports, which were based on distorted facts, made the media outlet's name notorious in China. CNN became a synonym for shamelessness and dishonesty.

Stigmatizing names, a way to show wrath and indignation, represents a growing tendency of media communication in China, especially on new media platforms. There is too much focus on how to make news spread as entertainingly as possible and less dedication to serious news.

News entertainment has boomed now that almost everyone can be a reporter, thanks to social media and the commercialization of the media industry. Serious hard news has gradually given in to this new model of communication, because explicitness and straightforwardness are no longer what people favor. News is now more driven by public feelings, and speculation often comes before the facts are revealed.

The grass roots have developed an interest in media, and this has opened a massive market for news communication. Serious news, which sometimes appears obscure and vapid, can be reinterpreted and presented in a more populist style.

But the abuse of entertainment has already revealed the defects of this means of communication.

It is acting like a drug, reducing people's ability to think critically and independently. News entertainment can please people's mind and offer them what they want to buy. It gives less space for the rational part of people's brain to think deeper and act responsibly.

When entertainment makes people mentally lazy, it can cause problems in terms of public opinion.

For example, when Zhou Kehua, a brutal criminal who committed felonies such as homicide and arms robbery, was captured in 2012 after years as a fugitive, some websites and social media nicknamed him "brother headshot," a title which seemed to confer a certain level of respect.

His ruthless acts, which caused panic in the real community, became a funny topic on the Internet.

Moreover, too much entertainment within news reports is a problem. Headlines and stories are often maneuvered to make sure more attention will be attracted, and the side effects are more extreme statements being unleashed.

Picking sides has become a normal state in public opinion, and abusive words are created to disgrace so-called foes.

It could be asserted that news entertainment is the major cause of many meaningless public debates on the Internet. If abetted and exploited by the wrong hands, these verbal fights might lose control and incur great damage to society.

On September 15, 2012, Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, was ravaged by an anti-Japan demonstration, in which Japanese-brand cars were smashed and the drivers were even beaten. The chaos was the result of online wrath triggered by Japan's "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands.

Chinese society must be fully aware that the uncontrollable spread of sensationalist news is causing problems. Serious hard news needs to assume its due responsibility to ensure a correct understanding of the facts and set the record straight. Only by doing so can public opinion avoid becoming prejudiced or violent.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. liuzhun@globaltimes.com.cn
Posted in: Viewpoint