Since it’s Friday afternoon, a little levity (even the unintended variety) is in order. I’m still laughing over a Global Times article I read this morning, an interview with a Chinese law professor about the dread plague of factually incorrect media reports about China coming from abroad. While I readily admit that such bias exists (I write about it often enough), this article is so way over the top that it’s hilarious.
Let’s start off with the “Editor’s Note,” which sets the table perfectly for the rest of the piece:
China has an ambivalent attitude to the foreign media. They introduce the country, in both its good and bad sides, to the world. But Chinese netizens, media, and government departments often accuse them of biased. Is there anything China can do about it? Should Chinese firms or government departments try to use legal means to counter “biased” reports? Global Times (GT) reporter Gao Lei interviewed Wang Sixin (Wang), a law professor at the Communication University of China, on these issues.
That first sentence is precious. Yes, China’s attitude towards foreign media is ambivalent, wouldn’t you agree? And yes, they are accused of bias frequently. What’s amusing here at the very outset, of course, is that instead of launching into a discussion about whether such accusations are justified, the GT journo immediately leaps to “legal means” to solve the (obvious?) problem.
Don’t worry, it gets better. Moving on (these are exerpts):
GT: Foreign journalists have been seen as a window for the outside world to learn about China. They have produced many quality reports that explained the complexity of China. But there were also some inaccurate reports or even deliberately misleading information. Why does this happen?
Wang: I think this issue isn’t solely one of foreign journalists. China’s domestic media also produces inaccurate reports under various circumstances. It is nearly impossible for the media to be 100 percent accurate and objective.
Generally speaking, reports that have gone too far from the actual facts or contain fake information would be deemed as inaccurate. But the reasons behind this are complicated.
Foreign journalists may get their information wrong if they fail to attend a news event or cannot acquire firsthand news materials from there. This is mostly a matter of negligence and is not deliberate in nature.
On the other hand, foreign journalists may sometimes interpret a news event differently than the Chinese due to cultural differences or personal preferences. This may explain why the Chinese would consider the foreign press as biased.
However, deliberate distortions do exist as well.
What’s most striking here is how reasonable this professor is being when faced with leading questions. He must be aware of what position the GT journo is likely to have, and yet he persists in his reasonableness. Bravo!
GT: Some of the inaccurate reports published in the foreign media have already damaged the reputation of governmental institutions, corporations or individuals in China. Is there a legal channel for them to seek compensation and defend their rights from those false accusations?
Wang: It is very hard and next to impossible for the institutions or individuals in China to do anything against inaccurate reports seen on foreign media because these articles are published outside China and the country has no legal authority over their overseas publishers.
At this point, I would have loved it if Professor Wang had asked the GT journo whether GT would also be willing to subject itself to foreign lawsuits in the spirit of reciprocity. That discussion would have been fun.
Wang: [I]nstead of blaming the foreign press, I think we should be more realistic about this phenomenon. Those reports and articles are at most just opinions open for discussion. If we are unhappy with them, we can raise the arguments and have fair and rational debates with the foreign press.
But most of all, we should focus on improving our domestic affairs and satisfying the needs of the public, because only by doing that can we really stand confident against those false accusations.
I think the GT guy’s head exploded at this point. Way too reasonable, logical, and fair. Want to see the next question the GT journo asked after Professor Wang essentially said “You know, this is kind of a stupid discussion”? Here you go:
GT: What legal risks do foreign journalists have if they write inaccurate reports regarding matters in their own countries? Will they have to bear the same risks if they wrote about a foreign country?
This guy has a serious hankering for suing journalists. I know it’s a tough industry, but where’s the camaraderie?
Here’s the final exchange, which is awesome. Note the Professor’s last effort to explain why the idea of suing foreign journalists is a really stupid idea:
GT: Then how can we reduce the chances of being unfairly targeted by foreign press?
Wang: I think we cannot escape this fate because inaccuracy happens every day in the news industry. What we can rely on is the press guilds or other form of media associations that can help improve reporters awareness of the journalism code, so that they will refrain themselves from taking the wrong path.
The law may be helpful but using the law to crack down on media errors will often leave others with the impression that freedom of speech is being suppressed. Therefore, in the developed world, cases against journalists are often handled with extra care.
If this reporter ever wanted to work overseas, I’m thinking that anything connected with Murdoch would be a good bet. Assuming that Murdoch isn’t thrown in jail, of course.