Some apologetic thoughts on media misunderstanding

By Gao Lei Source:Global Times Published: 2012-2-6 21:32:00

With increasing communication and engagement, people-to-people interaction between different countries is filling the void that can't be reached by official diplomacy. But some deeply entrenched perceptions may be difficult to alter. For media engaged in cross-border communication, it highlights both the necessities and challenges.

I recently made a blunder that reflects these difficulties. In editing an article compiled by another Global Times reporter based on another interview with Rory Medcalf, Program Director of International Security at the distinguished Lowy Institute in Australia, a few sentences caught my attention.

It was an error for us to run the piece under Medcalf's byline in the first place, without properly informing him beforehand.

Medcalf was discussing the Australian public becoming nervous about China's military and China's influence. A symbolic moment was the torch relay event in Australia for the Beijing Olympic Games in the summer of 2008, "which was a very large protest by Chinese students or citizens or residents to Australia against Tibetan and human rights protesters." Medcalf said on the record.

I was a bit unnerved reading this. I was a student studying in Australia when the incident happened. The ceremony was disrupted a few times by the Tibetan activists, who attempted to grab the torch and even attacked the disabled Chinese torch bearer. Overseas Chinese in Australia were irritated to the extent that they were forced to stage protests against these activists. I myself was one of the organizers in Perth.

My mind flashed back to the days when Western media gave what I saw as biased reports around Olympic torch relay and I tossed off the word "separatists" with outrage. I used the word unthinkingly, as it is the term commonly used by Chinese media source. It ended up in the article appearing as Medcalf's words. Of course professionally I made an extremely serious mistake. Medcalf wrote a blog post to clarify his opinions and I am truly sorry for the distress my misrepresentation caused.

In the blog, Medcalf stated that "someone on the newspaper's staff thought it was perfectly acceptable to put words into my mouth to suit the Communist Party line." It makes me look like a propaganda tool. I apologize that Medcalf's original words were altered, but I acted entirely out of my own initiative without any prompting from my superiors.

What I see from this unfortunate incident is the challenges Chinese media, and China as a whole, face in the expanding international engagement. Among issues where the West and China has profound disagreements, Tibetan situation is one of them. For both sides, a simple word can carry heavy political weight. 

As a junior editor, I still have much to learn. Meanwhile, I remain optimistic that open dialogue and exchange of ideas will still help reduce long-held misperceptions.

The author is an editor of the Global Times.

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