Looking past Western media bias

By Eric Sommer (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-02-28 07:19
The one-sided media coverage of Hollywood director Steven Spielberg’s departure from the Beijing Olympics is only the latest case of a more general and pervasive problem: Western world people are continually bombarded by a filtered and unduly negative version of Chinese reality by their news media.
Here in China we do get some picture of the various developments in the US and European economies, polities and foreign affairs.
Over there, however, with a few exceptions, only stories about censorship, spoiled food products, human rights issues, dangerous toys and the like in China are published. In general, the only positive stories feature "China is a great place to make money".
It’s not that these stories are all untrue; like all countries, China has its problems. There are corruption issues, product quality issues and other issues in China, though some of the stories are exaggerated or untrue.
The problem is that such stories are all that gets reported. It would be like if only the war in Iraq, the US patriot act and the rights abuses under it, the previously secret CIA prisons and torture in Europe and the large number of homeless and impoverished Americans were publicized, while all other US affairs, whether good or bad, were left in the dark of night.
Here’s a telling example: The Chinese government’s "project to build a new socialist countryside" is a key part of the country’s current five year plan and is impacting the lives of millions of Chinese farmers. The project features new social welfare protections, medical insurance for farmers, elimination of the traditional taxes on farm income, eased access to medical care, free public school education for children and generally improved standards of living and life opportunities for farmers.
By any reasonable standard, such a story, involving the lives of so many people, should have very high news value.
Curious to see how Western media would report this story, I searched for "China and New Socialist Countryside" in Google News shortly after the project was announced and found just a paltry 52 links. Most of them were from Chinese English-language sources like China Daily.
However, when I searched on the same day for "China and human rights" I got 5,185 links, mostly for the same few stories, carried over-and-over in thousands of periodicals.
This experience brought home to me just how filtered and misrepresented Chinese reality is when viewed through Western media. Many more examples of Western media "self-censorship" on China could be adduced, such as:
The failure to properly inform people about China’s highly innovative "Scientific Outlook on Development".
This concept could be considered one of the most advanced economic policies in the world because it seeks to replace one-sided emphasis on "economic growth" with a concept of holistic development that takes into account economic, social, and ecological concerns. The new concept of China as a "Harmonious Society" within a "Harmonious World" based on respect for diversity, which represents an attractive alternative to big-power politics and the attempt by a few powers to dominate the world.
The minimal attention paid to the Chinese government’s drive to turn China into an innovative society.
The new turn to a green China, which includes the development of the world’s first GDP figures to include ecological criteria and the construction of four new model eco-cities.
China’s exceedingly friendly and mutually beneficial current economic, social, and cultural relations with India, Vietnam, Russia, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, virtually all of its neighbor countries.
With the Beijing Olympics only months away, it’s high time for the Western news media to stop presenting a filtered version of China and adopt the responsible, traditional, journalistic stance of presenting "both sides of the story".
The author is a Canadian currently teaching in Beijing

About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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