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The Western media, an obstacle to a good relation with the Chinese public opinion?

Otto Kölbl

The objective of this website is to contribute to a better understanding between the West and China. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to a good communication. Even if this claim might surprise many Westerners, our media seem to be one of the problems

A lot of ink is spent on the topic of "cultural differences" between China and the West. It is quite obvious that these differences exist and that they don't make communication easier. On the other hand, most of our journalists who write about China got specific training in this field, many even graduated in sinology. Therefore, they should be able to be good intermediaries between these two cultures.

Unfortunately, there is another problem, which nobody seems to notice: our media will often betray our own Western values. This website contains a long list of topics where virtually all our media, including the most prestigious newspapers, violate in a systematic way the most basic rules of Western journalism for decades on end.

Our media consider themselves as being a countervailing power: they try to reveal problems and abuses at the hand of governments or big companies. They want to offer the population, victim of these abuses, the possibility to make themselves heard. Unfortunately, when they talk about China, the voice of the population is too often absent. If our media pretend to present us the voice of the population, and if at the same time the overwhelming majority of the Chinese I know are furious about what they write, we have got a problem.

The paroxysm of this conflict has been reached in the months preceding the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. Many Chinese as well in China as in many foreign countries organized protests and information events in order to denounce what they considered a media coverage characterized by slander and lies. Since then, things have settled down; many foreign correspondents in China have realized that there are also many positive aspects worth mentioning in that country, and the Chinese appreciate the more moderate tone of recent reports.

However, the dispute is far from being resolved, and we should not underestimate the risk of a new escalation in the future. Most journalists are still not conscious of the fact that during the first half of 2008, systematic errors in our media pushed the Chinese to become active. If they use now a more conciliatory tone, this is partly due to intensive diplomatic and popular pressure and far from being a wholehearted and voluntary change. We are still quite far from a good communication between our media and the Chinese public opinion.

Another claim by our media is that they will not only express their opinion, they will also pretend to corroborate it with solid data, i.e. statistics elaborated by international organizations, NGOs or research institutes, or fundamental texts elaborated by the international community. However, a closer look reveals that the available statistics are quite often either totally ignored or used in an incorrect way. In the same register, our media advocate the human rights as a universal ideal, but the human rights concept they use is in stark contradiction with the fundamental texts of the UN.

The last problematic aspect is that our media claim to criticize not only foreign governments, but also our past and present role in the world. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that the capacity to self-criticism tends to disappear as soon as we talk about colonialism (i.e. the Opium wars) or Tibet. The consequences of the measures proposed by the West when the USSR successor states tries to reform their economy is also a "sensitive issue" where our media will carefully avoid showing us the appalling statistics.

Of course our media should not simply reproduce the position of the Chinese government on these topics. However, if the version presented in our media is in gross contradiction with information which can be found in specialized Western history books, we have got a problem. If we want the Chinese to be more critical towards their own history, we must first practice what we preach.

Many researchers working in Western universities spend their time analyzing our media. However, if we consider the projects related to reports about China, we find the same problems as those described above (see our article What do media scientists do against abusive reporting by our media?). Therefore, it is no use to look at the Western academic research for even pointing out the problematic influence of our media on our relationship with the Chinese public opinion, let alone do something about it.

In order to fill the gap, this section of rainbowbuilders.org is dedicated to denouncing the most obvious cases where our media betray the ideals they pretend to defend. Don't hesitate to send us articles which illustrate the problems described above or other aspects you consider unacceptable.