Global Times: uncovering the West’s conspiracy of untruth

By David BandurskiGlobal Times, a newspaper published by the official People’s Daily, has played a powerful role this year in pushing back against criticism of China in the international media on a wide range of stories, from unrest in Tibet (and the ensuing anti-CNN controversy) to protests during the international leg of the Olympic torch relay.

One of the newspaper’s specialties this year has been personal and ugly attacks on the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders and its founder, Robert Menard. RSF has clearly made criticism of China a priority this year, and Global Times has returned the volleys with eye-for-an-eye savagery.

copy-2-of-huanqiu-online.JPG

[ABOVE: Global Times online section on China as seen through foreign eyes.]

Global Times reports on RSF have invariably been presented to readers as lurid exposes uncovering dirty truths about the organization. But the sourcing of information in these stories does little to convince the disinterested reader that they offer an even-handed account.

Many of the accusations rest on the comments of Cuban writer Nestor Baguer as quoted by Jean-Guy Allard, a former Canadian journalist who now works for Granma, a Cuban propaganda rag, in his book on Menard. Raising further red flags, Baguer apparently (on his own admission, via Allard) infiltrated RSF while working undercover for the Cuban government and posing as a dissident. Not exactly the makings of a credible whisteblower.

I am not in any position to contradict or disprove the allegations against RSF or Menard — nor do I have any interest one way or the other — but the trail of information in the Global Times articles is disputable to say the least, and they are part of a clear pattern at this increasingly influential newspaper.

Global Times has enjoyed immense commercial success in the last few years, and it is virtually unchallenged (thanks to official restrictions) as a purveyor of news about the wider world. Some of China’s top professional media, including Caijing magazine, now regard the newspaper as a direct competitor.

Here is one of my favorite revelations from the most recent attack launched by writer Tao Duanfang (陶短房) against RSF:

A source familiar with the situation told this reporter that the National Endowment for Democracy states clearly on its Web site that organizations receiving funding must not organize acts against the United States [Enjoy the nearly full story in English at China Daily.].

That’s of course a slightly alarmist way of saying that the NED is very up front about not funding acts of aggression against the United States (though I can’t find anything to substantiate this on the NED Web site). But it all sounds so wonderfully mischievous when Tao obtains this (allegedly) already public information from an unnamed source.

In its latest attack on Western media generally — a response to charges that China has not lived up to its Olympic promise of openness — Global Times sought last Wednesday to expose the spuriousness of “freedom of speech.”

One can not help but wonder whether these quotes are presented faithfully, and what in particular this editor from the Houstin Chronicle, whose name I have not yet managed to track down, really said.

The section is called, “Behind the Zeal for ‘Freedom of Speech’”:

One foreign reporter who has for years taken part in reporting of the Olympic Games said that among the press corps for every Olympics there are bound to be a few who do not focus on the sports field but who absorb themselves in finding or cooking up news. Before the Athens Olympics began, a certain British reporter wriggled his way into the unfinished Olympic sports ground and wrote a piece criticizing the Athens Olympics, saying there were “major security loopholes.” This [foreign] reporter said that critical news reports were a part of Olympic reports, and he believes that the first few days are extremely important, and that if all goes smoothely then public opinion will quickly follow . . .

Powell [?], a professor of journalism at Stockholm University, told the Global Times reporter that Western media views on China are longstanding, and that the media will first think of China in a certain way and then go in search of evidence in support. When they find it, they blow it out of proportion. When they don’t find it they say “China is not open enough.” Under such conditions, no matter what China does, it finds it difficult to satisfy Western media. Powell says that what China wants to show is its sunny side, and there’s no way officials will agree to welcome reporters for interviews in the remote countryside. But what Western media seek is the dark side, and they are determined to go there . . .

Jennifer (詹妮弗), editor of America’s Houstin Chronicle, says that “freedom of speech is linked to social responsibility and that journalists in the U.S. have lately enjoyed too much ‘freedom of speech’ and lost sight of social responsibility. In reporting news events they tend to come to conclusions first and then find material to support their conclusions. On the surface, they are exercising ‘freedom of speech’, but in actuality they violate the principles of objectivity and fairness.” She says that in the past she relied primarily on U.S. media to understand China. Now a number of Americans, including herself, no longer believe the U.S. media, and they manage to get their information through other channels, including Chinese media, and reach their own conclusions through comparison.

[Posted by David Bandurski, July 11, 2008, 2:35pm]

16 Comments to “Global Times: uncovering the West’s conspiracy of untruth”

  1. [...] the ordinary Chinese people’s views. That’s what we’re doing.”  He also links to a David Bandurski post at the China Media Project blog that is worth a read. When Imagethief was buying Chinese newspapers [...]

  2. FOARP says:

    @Bill – I doubt very much that the WMD would be all that bothered about posting on a western website critical of the Chinese government – Chinese chat sites are more their preferred stomping grounds.

  3. Bill says:

    Sounds like this place was invaded by the 50 centers. I hope they know how to spend their well earned loot.

  4. Jack Bauer says:

    David,

    If you thought that was a tirade, you ain’t seen nothin yet.

    An advocacy organization is presumed to be acting in the interest of its donors. That is why scrupulous organizations refuse to accept funds from sources that will threaten their independence and integrity.

    “There is a well-known saying that applies equally to NGO funding: ‘He who pays the piper, calls the tune’. Funding can, and often is, used to influence NGOs” writes the author of The Funding Trap http://www.worldanimal.net/onlinebook/Chapter%2014%20The%20Funding%20Dilemma.pdf

    So if RSF thinks it is proper for its funding sources to include the NED and the IRI, then it only reasonable for people to assume that the donors have influence over its activities.

    If this were not the case, then why would there be donor disclosure regimes?

    ++++

    You wrote:

    “You’re very generous to call Barahona’s piece an expose? Have you read it carefully, I wonder.”

    I read Barahona’s articles at least 2 years ago. In my view, these articles have been a good reference point for helping understand RSF’s activities. Since that time I haven’t seen much that RSF has done to make me think that these articles are fundamentally off-base.

    Other articles I’ve read since then confirm this view:

    “Government Funds Color Press Group’s Objectivity”
    by Diana Barahona
    http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0319-25.htm

    “Haiti’s Lawyer: US is Arming Anti-Aristide Paramilitaries
    By AMY GOODMAN and JEREMY SCAHILL
    http://www.counterpunch.org/goodman02262004.html

    Ortega murdered by US Marines in Haiti: A Reporter’s Notes
    by Kevin Pina
    http://hcvanalysis.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/haiti-journalist-ortega-murdered-in-haiti-a-reporters-notes/

    “Bias claim against reporters’ group
    International body denies being part of ‘neocon crusade’”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/may/19/pressandpublishing.usnews

    “A spokesman for the National Union of Journalists in London said yesterday: “It is very dangerous when press freedom organisations get themselves politically compromised by accepting payment from any government. It is really vital that all such organisations are truly independent.”

    This last quote is taken from the Guardian, which picks up on the Barahona article and goes deeper. The article was written by Duncan Campbell, whose bio says that he is a senior journalist at the Guardian since 1987.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/duncancampbell

    If Duncan Campbell and the Guardian can report on the Barahona article in a serious thoughtful way, what is so objectionable with my citing it here?

    There are legitimate questions raised about the RSF by progressives, liberals, libertarians, the left, and anyone else that doesn’t want to be taken in by a rightwing organization masquarading as neutral.

  5. Mark Binnersley says:

    Well said, David.

    This West-demonising-poor-little-China approach is pathetic. This is gonna sound harsh, but it has to be said: many Chinese people are clearly brainwashed. They are unable to see that the media in democratic countries is more scathing about their own government’s than they are about China’s. Chinese readers should watch CCTV9′s news hour or scour Xinhua for some negative reports about China’s leadership. They won’t find any. Your state-controlled media and education system has brainwashed you into thinking that China is so superior it is beyond criticism, but it’s for ever open season on other flawed countries. It’s about time the Chinese wised up to how they are being tricked by their own government. I gave up reading most Chinese newspapers a long time ago, so insulting are they to one’s intelligence. The so-called Western media doesn’t have an anti-China agenda; it has a holding-governments-to-account agenda which includes reporting how government decisions often negatively affect people’s lives. That’s a fundamental role of journalists. But the Chinese Communist Party denies Chinese journalists that role in order to preserve its own power and privilege. Any fool looking in from the outside can see that.

  6. wangcai says:

    Yiu-cho Chan, Blogger812, and friends,
    RSF seems like an unlikely white-house crony. America, the supposed RSF ‘puppet master’, gets quite a dressing-down in the 2007 annual report. And to my shame as an Australian, RSF have been active over here recently as well. RSF’s critisism of Australia was sharp, thorough, and absolutely accurate, suggesting their comments on Venezuela, Cuba, and China are researched to a similar standard. Actually, if you are looking for “a defense mechanism against western media”, RSF is probably not a bad place to start! Organisations like RSF are a part of the solution to the ‘biased media’ problem, no matter what flavour the bias.
    As always cross-checking is the key. RSF’s stance on China might be vulnerable to allegations of bias if it were a lone voice, but it is not, and many of these voices originate within China and are therefore unlikely to be part of the hypothetical anti-china conspiracy. PEN international, for example, although founded in London, has spawned a diverse host of more-or-less autonomous PEN centers in all kinds of places, including mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. PEN centers do sometimes cite RSF, so if this leaves you unsatisfied, try Amnesty International, or give up on third parties completely and use the PEN material to chase up first-hand reports.
    However I wouldn’t recommend taking this last path, because unfortunately persisting in chasing up the first-hand accounts of many of these stories may put you at personal risk, particularly if you are a Chinese citizen.
    That’s the point.

  7. David says:

    Blogger812:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume I can have a rational conversation with you about this issue.

    I don’t agree with many of the tactics RSF has used this year to criticize China. I think — and again, this is my personal opinion — that their efforts have had the effect of closing doors and shutting down dialogue rather than urging Chinese leaders to think about the value and the PRACTICE of freedom of expression (which is not a “Western” value, but in fact guaranteed in China’s constitution).

    But why do you imagine there is some kind of broad “Western” conspiracy against China?

    Bear with me here.

    I’m American. Do you think all Americans think exactly like I do? Believe exactly the same things I do? Do you really think American journalists are called into regular “breeze sessions” with White House staff to instruct them on how to misinform the world about China?

    Western media are not perfect. Individual journalists or editors DO have prejudices (we all do, right?) — against Chinese leaders, against non-democratic leaders, against any number of things — that might affect their work. But there is no “party line” in the West. And this is why even the gaffes at CNN and other Western media WERE REPORTED BY Western media. Western media started asking themselves: “Are we really that wrong about China?”

    Freedom of speech does not mean perfect speech or infallible speech. But it does have the advantage of not being monopolized by this leader or that leader, and there is the hope and the expectation of accuracy. When the facts are wrong, free media CAN and DO issue corrections and apologies, or report on the controversy they have created themselves.

    Don’t you think the world would be better off if we (you and me) were to expect media in China to be better, media in the U.S. to be better, media in India to be better, media in Russia to be better, media in France to be better?

    You seem to hope for a better Chinese weapon of falsehood to combat a “Western” machine of falsehood.

    You are, it seems to me, seeing an anti-China conspiracy and taking an “US versus THEM” approach to this issue when it would be better to demand that both Western and Chinese media act more professionally . . . (let’s just ignore, for a moment, the topic of state censorship in China).

    I also want to point out just how wrong you are in viewing organizations like RSF and Human Rights Watch as “anti-Chinese.” And this is clearly the basis of your paranoia about “Western” attacks on China.

    You say RSF groups like RSF and Human Rights Watch don’t criticize the U.S. or U.S. allies. How wrong you are!

    I’m sorry, Blogger812, but if you’re going to say such things you should do your homework, as we say back home. A simple search of the HRW site shows they have a strong lobby against U.S. actions that violate human rights. Read this: http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=usa

    Here is the RSF criticizing the U.S. just last year over its worsening record on freedom of speech: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=20542

    Best,
    David

  8. David says:

    Yiu-cho Chan:

    Thank you for your comments as well. I appreciate your attempt at offering a historical perspective on sensitivity over these issues of “Western bias.”

    I never called what the RSF does “journalism,” so I just want to correct you on that point. My only point is that, whatever the truth about RSF, what Tao Duanfang is doing is most definitely NOT journalism.

    Thanks,
    David

  9. David says:

    Jack:

    Thank you for your comments. Congratulations on performing a successful Google search.

    Yes, of course I have read Barahona’s piece and the others. But there is nothing whatsoever in my article to suggest the allegations against RSF are “news.” . . . Your little tirade is perhaps addressed to the Global Times, don’t you think?

    My point is that the Global Times piece, an “expose,” relies entirely on these tired old sources. There is no original reporting by Tao Duanfang whatsoever, just rehashing of material directly from Allard and Barahona.

    You’re very generous to call Barahona’s piece an expose? Have you read it carefully, I wonder.

    Best,
    David

  10. Jack Bauer says:

    David, Where’s the beef?

    Hasn’t it been known for years that the founder of RSF was an anti-Castro rightist, and the RSF is funded by U.S. neocon interests?

    It’s like, David, where have you been for the last 3 years?

    The expose by Diana Barahona has been out on the internet since 2005.

    “Reporters Without Borders Unmasked” (May 2005)
    http://www.counterpunch.org/barahona05172005.html

    “The Reporters Without Borders Fraud” (May 2005)
    http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/6283

    International Republican Institute Grants Uncovered: Reporters Without Borders and Washington’s Coups (August 2006)
    http://www.counterpunch.com/barahona08012006.html

    These critical articles have been available on the RSF Wikipedia entry for years – I’ve never heard of Global Times but I have heard of Wikipedia.

    I’m sure many people across the world have read these allegations about RSF, and already formed their own judgment based on the RSF’s actions.

    It’s not as though the Global Times – a publication that I don’t know – is the first to report this stuff.

    This is hardly news.

  11. Bchung says:

    ooo what shock to see the Chinese media learning and “even” applying the same tricks that the western media uses pretty much every day against countries they deem “unacceptable” or “evil”.

    What exactly is the big deal here?

    You mean how western media literally cook up the whole “peaceful tibet protest’ propaganda? You mean how they took pictures of the blogger Kadfly and twist the whole story around? Or the cropping of pictures and making up stories out of thin air? There is still much for the Chinese media to learn and apply the same tricks against the media of the “free” west.

  12. Blogger812 says:

    All I see here is Chinese media applying the same trick that western media did to smear China sometimes: Interviewing dissident sources and making them the main part of the report, misrepresenting quotes and arguments of the opposition, giving one side a lot of coverage and sidelining the opposition argument (on this, maybe GlobalTimes haven’t learn to do). I see this as a new development of the maturing Chinese media, a defense mechanism against western media. Since US government can funded certain organizations, RSF, HRW, with the sole purpose of criticizing non-US allies, Chinese government can funded GlobalTimes to deflect those criticisms.

  13. Yiu-cho Chan says:

    I think the fact that RSF receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is a known front-NGO for the CIA and, subsequently, the White House, should render any of their comments on a non-Western country mute. They viciously criticize Venezuela, Cuba, and China and yet you hear nothing from them in regards to the fact that France (where RSF is headquartered) is one of the leading countries in arms sales in Africa. I don’t know how you can call what they do journalism when they show a clear bias one way and rarely, if ever, give a balancing view for the other side.

    Yes, China has a thin skin, but if the United States was cowed by foreign powers and rendered impotent for decades in the past, then I think they would possibly react in the same way in present time. This isn’t to justify what the Chinese government and Global Times is doing, but merely to put things into perspective, factually and historically.

  14. MAC says:

    The Global Times is such garbage, I first picked it up at a Beijing news stand before I was aware of its reputation. The funniest part is the “translations” of foreign media articles… The positive ones take out all the caveats, the critical ones takes out all the specifics and facts, seemingly to make the criticism look empty. That this rag presents itself as informing the Chinese people of world views is obscene.

  15. Mark Binnersley says:

    If Global Times is such a bastion of objective reporting, it would give Menard a column to state his case against the Chinese government. Until this so-called newspaper does that, its “reports” can only be seen as nationalist shite.

  16. The problem is not Western bias, it is China’s thin skin and assuming its “proper place” in the world.

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