Twofish's Blog

April 12, 2008

About media bias or non-bias

Filed under: china, economics, politics, wikipedia — twofish @ 5:08 pm

I don’t think that the Western media is particular biased against China per se. It’s just that media is looking for a “good” and “exciting” story, and “good stories” are usually about “EVIL OPPRESSOR” against “INNOCENT VICTIM” and China sometimes falls into the “EVIL OPPRESSOR” role. It’s not necessarily anti-China since any big government or corporation is going to sometimes fall into the “EVIL OPPRESSOR” mode, and one part of any media strategy is to try not to get hit with the EVIL OPPRESSOR label too much.

Part of the reason is that China is getting more and more powerful and rich, and the more powerful and rich you are, the more likely it is that you will be an “EVIL OPPRESSOR” and less likely that you will be “INNOCENT VICTIM.” Note that in the 1980’s Japan and Russia were “EVIL OPPRESSORS” but today no one cares about them any more.

Part of the reason I’ve started the “LET’S BASH CHINA COLUMN…” is that one has to get used to it and laugh at it rather than get too angry because anger destroys you (something that I learned from the Dalai Lama).

The other problem is that Chinese students tend to go into fields that make money (computer science, law, and finance). I really don’t know that many Chinese students that come to the US to study journalism. Part of the reason this is that skills in finance and CS are transferable. People can easily move from Goldman-Sachs to Bank of China and vice-versa, from Huawei to Cisco and back, and no one I know has moved from the New York Times and back.

One issue here is that the “Western media” claims lack of bias. If you go to People’s Daily or Xinhua and ask, are you fair and objective. They’d say “of course not, we speak for the Communist Party.” The trouble with CNN, Washington Post, and New York Times is that they claim to be objective and unbiased, when it’s pretty clear that they are not. (Read anything that Howard W. French writes.) Interestingly not all media claim non-bias, the Economist, one of my favorite magazines, makes it very clear that they are biased for free-markets and free-minds. The Wall Street Journal also doesn’t claim objectivity.

The problem with claiming non-bias is that then you can’t talk about them and thing rationally about how your biases affect your reporting. Also by claiming non-bias, you are implicitly saying that people who disagree with you are biased, and that means that you have no reason to take their views seriously.

This brings up the question of whether the notion of non-bias works at all in the internet age.

The groups that overseas Chinese groups should learn from are groups conservative groups like “Accuracy in Media” and conservative bloggers that killed CBS News and made Dan Rather a laughing stock. Another thing to study is the Tailwind scandal.

One reason to not get too overexcited about media portrayal about China is that people in the US are “immunized” to media bias in much the same way that people in China don’t really trust the People’s Daily. People in the US *don’t* get all or even most of their information about China from the newspapers but rather from Chinese that they live and work with.

Finally, one reason that is important in that during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the United States was seen has “heaven” and “savior” by most Chinese. CNN gets a *lot* of anger now, because of its role in 1989 when it was seen as “savior” during the Tiananmen demonstrations. Chinese are finding out the truth which is that the United States is run by ordinary people not super-humans. One thing that greatly concerns me is that Tibetans in Tibet who have much less exposure to the West than Han Chinese in Shanghai may see the United States as a savior, and this may lead them to do things which they wouldn’t do if they knew the reality.

So you have monks demonstrate and pictures end up in the front page of the New York Times. *WE ARE SAVED, TIBET IS FREE, THE NEW YORK TIMES AND NANCY PELOSI WILL SAVE US*. Except that in three months, the New York Times is gone, people in the West have forgot about you, and the Chinese government is still there. People are still dying in Darfur and Burma. Remember them?

Two, under what situations would it cease to be biased against China?

If China falls apart and gets invaded then it becomes an *INNOCENT VICTIM*. Personally, I think we should just get used to the media trying to portray China as an *EVIL OPPRESSOR* and learn to manage it.

Also don’t think of the Western media is an monolith. There are lots and lots of different groups in the West. As with all political activism, you need to find the groups that agree with your views and work with them. has a nice section on anti-anti-China bashing.

And three, if Westerners are receiving a distorted image of China, their valuation of the Chinese economy must be distorted. How do I make money off it?

Not really. Business people don’t get their news from the newspapers, they see for themselves. One reason I like people in business is that it is interesting how people who are good at making money are very good at trying to figure out what is *REAL* going on since they want to make money off it.

Right now the CEO of every major corporate sponsor is hoping that the Olympic protests dissipate and if they can think of a quiet way that they can reduce the protests they’ll do it. They are limited by the fact that if they do anything obvious then the headlines will read *EVIL BIG CORPORATION SILENCES INNOCENT VICTIM PROTESTERS!!!!!* so I think what they are doing is to not say anything stupid and just wait for things to blow over, and if there is no news, then they can start running the Olympic commercials in June or July. Looking at the list of cities, the only two that I can see where you could have a repeat of Paris are Canberra and Delhi.

BTW, no major corporate sponsor will *DARE* pull out at this point. Anyone that does will be looking at losing the China market for the next decade. One thing that’s nice about multi-national corporations is that while 1.2 billion Chinese can’t vote for President of China, they can vote as to whether or not the want to drink Coca-Cola or wear Nike. This gives Chinese quite a bit of control over multi-national corporations, and the protesters can have the streets if we take the board rooms.

1 Comment »

  1. Interesting perspective…
    I have a Chinese heritage (though not born there) and it is interesting to see the difference in perspective that I sometimes hear between the US newsgroups and my own parents.

    I’m trying to do a little research myself to self-educate about what is really going on with all the human rights hullabaloo – not that I doubt the oppression, but at least to see the extent of it and maybe get a Chinese perspective.

    (It would appear that you are a journalist. Is this true?)

    Comment by Tony — August 9, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

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