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What do media scientists do against abusive reporting by our media?

Otto Kölbl

Our media do not really play a helpful role in our relation with the Chinese public opinion. Quite often, the problems are due to the fact that they betray their own values. Still, nothing happens. The few research project on this topic totally miss the real problems. It might not be a surprise that the reasons which prevent our scientists from doing their job are the  same which plague our media.

As we saw in the article The Western media, an obstacle to a good relation with the Chinese public opinion?, the reasons which prevent our media from offering a reporting about China which is acceptable to a majority of the Chinese are the following:

  1. They have decided to ignore almost totally the opinion of the Chinese people, even though they pretend to defend them against a repressive communist regime.
  2. They do not often work with the rigour necessary to offer high quality information
  3. They lack any sense of self-criticism when they evaluate the Western influence in the region, especially in past decades and centuries.

A few major research projects investigating the Western reporting about China at the occasion of the 2008 Olympic Games have been published recently. Unfortunately, they reveal that the same criticism as above can also be applied to the researchers in charge of the projects.

In none of the projects, Chinese people were questioned about their opinion of or their criticism towards our media. Their voice is simply ignored.

Books in the University library in Lausanne.

Lots of academic books in the University Library Lausanne, Switzerland.

All the projects are satisfied with an internal content analysis, none tries to compare the articles or reports with the reality in China as described by trustworthy international organizations or by specialized scientific publications.

If you are sitting in front of hundreds or even thousands of newspaper articles or TV news reports, it is of course difficult to know where to start. Within the framework of a single research project, the researchers can not check all the information collected by the journalists in the field, quite often under difficult circumstances.

In order to get some first clues as to which are the problematic issues, it is important to listen to local people. For example, Chinese people who have been able to consult our media have lots of interesting things to say, including precise indications about contested issues. Like this, the scientists can restrict their search of external information to specific topics. It is all the more regrettable that the researchers mentioned above refused to listen to what the Chinese people have to say.

On the other hand, even when an author stumbles across a case where our media defend a problematic position, he will never explore it in a systematic way. Especially when he is confronted with a prestigious newspaper, he will avoid the conflict with an organization he know, who know him, and which he will need on a regular basis in the future to help him promote his projects (see Power and countervailing power in the media).

This section of rainbowbuilders.org is not only dedicated to research about our media. Publications about China will also be discussed here, especially those which represent problematic aspects.

It is difficult to sum up in a few words the different factors which lead to these problems. However, in this field, we also find causes similar to those mentioned in relation to the media: a total absence of exterior as well as interior control. In academic circles, it is not common to criticize an author in relation to the methodology he uses in his research.

This is certainly one of the reasons why most of the researchers I contacted reacted quite negatively. Let us hope for the future that our scientists will learn to react more positively to constructive criticism.