EDITOR’S NOTE: On September 30, Chen Weihua, the deputy editor of China Daily in the United States, wrote an editorial in which he sharply criticized American “mainstream media” for their “shameful” “blackout” on the Wall Street protests. In fact, while many Americans had voiced anger over meager coverage by major media groups, reports had already been on a four-day upswing by the time Chen’s editorial appeared. On September 26, America’s National Public Radio publicly explained the network’s initial decision not to cover the protest. And in The Cutline, a media-related blog at Yahoo!, Brian Stableford wrote on September 27 about how media coverage of the protests had ramped up on September 26 after major media outlets were criticized. At The New York Times Online yesterday, Brian Stelter wrote about a further uptick in media coverage of the protests as they have spread to other cities. The following is a response to the China Daily editorial by CMP fellow and Chinese “super-blogger” Yang Hengjun.
I was still in bed today when a had a phone call from [a journalist in] Hong Kong asking whether or not I had seen a certain editorial in China Daily. I said I hadn’t seen it, and she said she would send it to my inbox. No big deal, I thought. These people in the media often take small things and build them up into big stories. And anyhow, China Daily is an English-language newspaper, read by foreigners and by Chinese who want to improve their English.
I got up and opened my inbox, and the first thing I saw was a message from another internet user in the United States, talking about exactly the same editorial. He said that he had discussed the editorial with some American friends and they found it incredible that an editorial like this could actually make it into official Chinese media. There were a lot of places to find fault with America, they said, but to accuse American media of a “media blackout”? That was simply incredible!
So I made a point of locating the editorial they were talking about, which bore the headline, “US media blackout of protest is shameful“. The writer is the deputy editor of China Daily in the United States. I honestly hadn’t seen the editorial and knew nothing about it. But as soon as I read it I was jumping out of my chair. The author asked why mainstream American media weren’t reporting on how one percent of Americans control 25 percent of America’s wealth, and why most mainstream media had “chosen to ignore” the Wall Street protests over the past two weeks. He even suggested “a blackout [had been] imposed by the major news media outlets.”
These Wall Street protests have been organized by young people, who say they are the “99 percent” [who are not super-rich], and several thousand have participated so far. Protests have spread to other places, such as Washington D.C., but gatherings in the US capital have so far drawn less than a hundred people. These sorts of protests are quite common in the United States, and at any given place on any given day you might see a protest of some sort. But this protest is larger in scale. And consider that in the wake of the jasmine revolution in the Middle East people are calling it “America’s jasmine [protests].”
While there are points of similarity [with events in the Middle East] in the sense that both movements are driven by young people who feel marginalized, want justice and fairness, and oppose corruption (political corruption in the case of the Middle East, and Wall Street corruption in the case of America), the biggest difference is that these American jasmine protests are directed at the greed of Wall Street. No one is talking about overthrowing the American government, or about switching out signs on the American political system.
American media are all held in private hands. Moreover, pretty much anyone at the helm in the media business is a major corporate boss, belonging to that one percent [of Americans holding 25 percent of the wealth]. So you can imagine the possibility that they might control the media in their hands so that they report lightly or not at all on these demonstrations. If China Daily took that approach to the story they might convince some readers. The problem is that this curious editorial criticizes the “fact” that there is a media blackout on this story among American mainstream media without making any concrete mention of who is responsible.
The writer is also in America. So has he really not seen any reports on television or in the newspapers? A friend of mine in America did a search and found that over the past two weeks, all mainstream US media (his search covered perhaps around 100 media, including television) reported this story, and most New York media reported on this story a minimum of four times! Over the past two weeks the Wall Street protests have become the story most reported by American mainstream media. But in terms of the number of people participating it shouldn’t be given such prominence of position.
This is the internet age, and many American media can be seen even in China. For a paper like China Daily, supported by taxpayers, to publish such an irresponsible editorial — well, drawing the scorn of others is one thing, but if you blatantly lie and deceive to this degree, that reflects badly on China’s government! It reflects badly on the Chinese people! It is completely shameful!
After living for so many years in the US, we of course know that Western media, politics and economics all have their problems, and most of these have come out in the wash. For example, I once wrote a piece called, “Why is CNN patriotic?” which talked about how American media actively took sides in the so-called war on terror. But in exposing such things we have to maintain a rational state of mind, otherwise we’ll have the exact opposite of our intended effect. If this was in so local Chinese newspaper, you might expect it to fool the old woman who sells the goose eggs. But this appears in an English-language newspaper circulated all over the world.
We all know that after the jasmine revolution erupted in the Middle East various governments offered different responses. Dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East immediately moved to restrict the media, restricting news on the jasmine protests. The result was the in some countries where there are thousands of media, a protest with tens of thousands of people participating didn’t even make the news.
But here in this China Daily editorial the author willfully disregards these facts, instead launching an attack against mainstream media in the U.S. for restricting information. Isn’t this removing the kettle before it’s boiling? [NOTE: The implication here is that China falls far shorter on the count American media are being criticized for.] Or perhaps the author harbors ulterior motives (别有用心), wanting his false news to turn the attention of all Chinese who know how to conduct a basic online search to real news about non-democratic countries — real news that has never been reported! [NOTE: Yang is poking fun at the author, suggesting his piece reveals more about information controls in China than it says about media in the U.S., and in that sense could be considered a veiled attack on China's government.]
Taxpayers in China support so many media that have to do propaganda, that go and try to channel public opinion, and there’s not a lot we can say about this. But you need at least have a modicum of sense and technique in going about it, you need to have a basic bottom line standards. You can’t shame the face of China’s government and harm the people of China!