Bin Laden on (and off) China’s front pages

The world’s big story of the day, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, once again provides an interesting illustration of widely divergent story and layout choices made by China’s traditional Party newspapers — still regarded as “mouthpieces” of top CCP leaders — and their commercial counterparts.

A number of front pages from major commercial newspapers have been aggregated at Sina.com. Below are some front pages we have selected from official Party newspapers at various levels and their corresponding commercial papers.

The Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily did place the bin Laden story on the front page today, but gave the story less salient treatment, placing it in the bottom-right corner.

[ABOVE: The front page of today's official People's Daily, with a small story at the bottom-left corner reading: "America Announces Assassination of Bin Laden."]

By contrast, the bin Laden story dominates the front page of the Beijing Times, a commercial spin-off of People’s Daily. “Bin Laden Already Dead,” reads the large white headline. Below the headline, readers are led to several relevant inside stories. An image of bin Laden is superimposed on a black background, with a graphic re-enactment below of a raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound, two helicopters sweeping down and firing missiles as a presumable Navy SEAL in the foreground at the bottom of the page closes in.


[ABOVE: The front page of today's Beijing Times.]

Nanfang Daily, the official Party newspaper of Guangdong province, but one of the most commercialized of provincial-level Party papers, puts the bin Laden story on the front page, with photos of both bin Laden and U.S. President Barack Obama, with a large still at right from ABC News purported to have been taken inside bin Laden’s compound after the raid.

[ABOVE: The front page of today's Nanfang Daily.]

Southern Metropolis Daily, the commercial spin-off of Nanfang Daily, also puts the bin Laden story on the front page, but does not overplay the story and avoids the sensationalism of the Beijing Times treatment. A large image of bin Laden dominates the page with a simple headline: “Bin Laden is Dead.”


[ABOVE: The front page of today's Southern Metropolis Daily.]

At the city level, here is Chengdu’s official Chengdu Daily, which has coverage of the bin Laden story at the very bottom of the front page, with a photo pointing readers to the story on Page 9. All content deals with official city news, including an estimate of 4.28 million domestic tourists expected to visit the city during the May 1 holiday.


[ABOVE: The front page of today's official Chengdu Daily, with no coverage of the bin Laden story.]

And here is Chengdu Daily spin-off Chengdu Evening News, with an front page image of bin Laden, a bullet hole ripping through each corner of the photograph and blood splatters surrounding the cracked and rough-edged word “dead” in the headline: “Laden is Dead.”


[ABOVE: The front page of today's Chengdu Commercial News.]

10 Comments to “Bin Laden on (and off) China’s front pages”

  1. JVO says:

    @ltlee

    I’m not saying that interest in his death is ubiquitous. It no doubt pales in comparison to the death of Michael Jackson. I was in Shanghai at that time and the story dominated the headlines for a week.

    I do think there are two reasons why the story has legs. Bin Laden has become a sort of folk hero for intense nationalists, who are extremely vocal on the internet. That his death has been met with chagrin by so many hints at rising anti-Americanism in China. http://chinageeks.org/2011/05/in-brief-most-chinese-net-users-sad-bin-laden-is-dead/

    Secondly I think on a more general level, despite China’s tremendous economic gains, there’s still a mix of envy and fascination on the part of many Chinese vis a vis the U.S. military. There’s a general impression in China that the U.S. is stagnating, but the American military is the one institution which still impresses people. I think a raid of this complexity is a reminder that the U.S. military still has unique capabilities.

  2. ltlee says:

    @JVO

    I was browsing the People’s Daily’s QGLT several days ago. My stored URL gave me page two (100 primary entrees). Five had bin Laden’s and/or his death and/or the raid as part of the title. The sixth one was about Obama’s speech. These topics did not have much follow ups. I got no sense that the posters were particularly excited about bin Laden’s death.

    Please tell what makes you think the Chinese people wanted to read about bin Laden’s death more than the Chinese media had carried.

  3. JVO says:

    It seems like theres a definite divergence between what people want to read about (i.e. OBL’s death) and what the government wants people to read about (educational development??) Obviously papers that are less beholden to the state ran with the popular story.

    What would you rather read about?

  4. ltlee says:

    @Dr Jones Jr.

    “Chinese newspapers and reporters are straining at the limitations placed upon them.”

    1. Two ancient Chinese stories:
    A certain Mr He believed he had found the biggest piece of jade and he wanted to gave it to the emperor of Zhao. The emperor took a look at the stone and he was not convinced it was jade. Mr He was punished. A certain barbarian felt asleep under the sun and he had the most wonderful dream. So he went before the emperor and claimed that he had made a big discovery. Sleeping under the sun was good. He was laughed off.

    Only the Chinese people as a whole and time can determine which reporter is Mr He and which is Mr Barbarian.

    2. “穷而后工” (Constrained and working harder to improve oneself)
    Constraints could be a blessing in disguise.

    As a consumer of the press, I found the Chinese press better than the so called “free press.” The following is excerpted from “TRUTH AND DUTY” written by Mary Mapes, a Peabody Award-winning CBS news producer and a free press romantic until she knew better

    “Journalism, particularly television, no longer does complex, complicated, or subtle very well.
    It rarely does real investigation. And God knows, journalism today has devolved into repeating more than reporting. If it’s online, it will soon be on the air. And the anchors and reporters broadcasting it are not checking out the facts in each case. They can’t. There is just no time in a world of twenty-four-a-day news cycles, where a story erupts, gets beaten like a dead horse, and then dragged off-screen to make way for something new. Rarely are journalists as careful or as thoughtful as they could be.My complaints are aimed at myself as well.”

    “Newspaper weren’t much better, taking elements of the story out of context, scrambling quotes, accepting claims at face value, and refusing to investigate anything on their own. Basically, reporters used faulty techniques in determining that I was guilty of using
    faulty techniques. I wish for all of them the insight of seeing themselves covered by others. They won’t believe how breathtakingly bad we can be. Watching the digital lynch mob at work was confusing, terrifying, and demoralizing.”

  5. @ltlee
    “People far from China in general know much less about China, hence reporters have more freedom. They can write all kinds of lies.”

    Too bad, then, that the Chinese government systematically works to silence those closest to China (i.e., in China) who could provide us all the greatest accuracy and variety of reporting on China and the full spectrum of Chinese perspectives that exists.

    I have little doubt that Chinese press are allowed to report the government’s narrative quite accurately and with little difficulty. What is clear–and inspiring–is that some Chinese newspapers and reporters are straining at the limitations placed upon them. As has been reported in this website quite often, these newspapers and reporters often pay a steep price for their efforts to relate controversial news and views.

  6. ltlee says:

    @Dr Jones Jr.

    It is indeed difficult to differentiate freedom and, in this case, creativity. By the same token, would you not also agree that it is difficult to differentiate press freedom from journalistic adherence to truth?

    As I see it, journalistic adherence to truth on issues related to China seems to follow along with distance from China and with good reasons. In general, the quality of any press depends on the quality of its readers. More knowledgeable readers will demand higher quality press. People far from China in general know much less about China, hence reporters have more freedom. They can write all kinds of lies. Their readers probably would not notice the mistakes and, if notice, probably don’t particularly care to correct them.

  7. ltlee says:

    Chinese free press and western guided press, refreshing and may be closer to truth!

    Mr. Bandurski had done a good job highlighting freedom among PRC presses. At the same time, American journalist, Glenn Greenwald was made clear that the so called “free press:” is actually a guided press.

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/03/propaganda_bin_laden/index.html

    “Virtually every major newspaper account of the killing of Osama bin Laden consists of faithful copying of White House claims. That’s not surprising: it’s the White House which is in exclusive possession of the facts, but what’s also not surprising is that many of the claims that were disseminated yesterday turned out to be utterly false. And no matter how many times this happens — from Jessica Lynch’s heroic firefight against Iraqi captors to Pat Tillman’s death at the hands of Evil Al Qaeda fighters — it never changes: the narrative is set forever by first-day government falsehoods uncritically amplified by establishment media outlets, which endure no matter how definitively they are disproven in subsequent days.”

  8. (In this artist’s opinion) the Chengdu Daily has by far the best graphic design team. Southern Metropolis Daily is not too bad, despite being a bit more staid in approach. Beijing Daily is not only unrealistic in its depiction, but seems to have used a much too small picture of Bin Laden, leading to pixelization. The official party papers are quite unattractive in layout.

    Funny how the creativity of page layout/design seems to follow along with distance from official orthodoxy.

  9. admin says:

    Mark:

    You’re absolutely right. The posted image now includes the bin Laden photo and page jump. Thanks.

    Best,
    David

  10. Mark says:

    Actually the Chengdu Daily does have a small picture of Bin Laden at the bottom of the front page. You can just see the top of his head on the picture here, which is cropped too much. But very interesting to see the differences between the newspapers.

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