Chinese netizens strike blow at Western media ethics

anti-cnn.jpgChinese citizens and netizens alike have long claimed Western media shows an unfair bias towards their country, and though most Western media outlets seem to pay it no heed, one site has caused them to pause and take notice.

Anti-CNN.com, as its name suggest, puts a thumb in the eye of US media giant CNN, but doesn’t stop there. The site gives an endless supply of photographic examples where North American and European media have mis-represented the recent situation in Tibet.

Run by private citizens (of no claimed nationality, but I doubt I’m going too far into my own assumptions by saying many are Chinese), the site acts as a forum where the media’s manipulation of events are exposed and commented upon. Topics seem all to be focused on Tibet, though I’m sure it won’t stay limited to that.

We are not against the western media, but against the lies and fabricated stories in the media.
We are not against the western people, but against the prejudice from the western society. – Anti-CNN.com

There are no shortage of online forums where Chinese gather amongst themselves and cry out about the injustices befalling China from the West. What makes Anti-CNN.com (mirrored at Anti-BBC.com and Anti-VOA.com) different is that (A) it’s in English and Chinese to allow for a wider debate, and (B) they’ve got some solid points. If they didn’t, I doubt CNN would be offering a statement in its defense:

(CNN) — CNN has been singled out for criticism for our coverage of events in Tibet through an anti-CNN.com Web site and elsewhere. We have provided comprehensive coverage of all sides of this story, but two specific allegations relate to pro-Tibetan bias. We would like to take this chance to respond to them:

The statement goes on to address a particular photo (below) displaying rioters throwing stones at military or police vehicles. The left-side shows a photo, which originally ran in the CNN article, that clearly illustrates authoritarian vehicles moving in on unarmed people. The original (un-cropped) photo on the right shows that the vehicles were actually being pelted with a hail of large stones from an angry mob.

tibet-stones.jpg

CNN’s response to the criticism of the photo crop was:

CNN refutes all allegations by bloggers that it distorts its coverage of the events in Tibet to portray either side in a more favorable light. We have consistently and repeatedly shown all sides of this story. The one image in question was used wholly appropriately in the specific editorial context and there could be no confusion regarding what it was showing, not least because it was captioned: “Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles on a street in the capital Lhasa.” The picture gallery included in Tibet stories includes the image.

The Anti-CNN site makes a valid rebuttal against CNN’s statement:

Taking a quick look at what CNN has to say, one will find CNN’s excuse for cropping picture laughable. Web based publication has great deal of freedom in presenting multimedia materials including pictures. CNN could have posted the picture in its entirety while moving text to the rest of the area without any trouble at all. Web pages are not printed materials, resizing and reframing paragraphs are virtually costless and effortless. In fact, after being attacked for cropping the picture, CNN modified the page to put a zoomed out version of the entire original photo, without having to move text format at all. Then why did CNN need to crop it in the first place? Also, CNN argues in the statement that the picture was captioned “Tibetans throw stones”, then by what motive would a rational editor crop out the exact part of people throwing stones? No excuse can possibly be found to justify the discrepancy between what CNN did and what CNN claims.

This is but one example of pages upon pages of postings, photos and forums at the Anit-CNN site. Scrolling through some of the comments, you find little in the way of constructive conversation, and as is typical of forums in general (and Chinese forums in particular) just a lot of folks looking to brainlessly mouth off.

However, the original posts themselves do offer up some rather solid examples of what Western media needs to improve if they truly want to call their news “International”. International news delivered with a national bias simply doesn’t deserve the title.

Even at the small journalism college I graduated from, with the bulk of its alumni going on to report on local news or leaving the field all together, there was one thing touted more than anything else – ethics. A journalist has a responsibility not just to deliver the news in a slap-dash fashion with presumptions. It needs to be factual or not run at all – no one reads the retractions.

Unfortunately that’s just not the way modern media works. CNN’s 24/7 non-stop news has created the mire it, and all media outlets, is now stuck in. It used to be that news had the already extremely tight deadline of needing to be reported daily, forcing reporters to do all their interviews, fact checking and editing in time to hit the ‘going to press’ deadline – now the pressure is to break a story as soon as it happens to beat out the other national and international outlets that are all on the same field – the Internet – and all scrambling to be the ones that are first to a viewer’s screen.

Something has to give – and as Anti-CNN.com shows, that something is the ethical obligation of a journalist to tell a well-rounded account of an event. Not, as CNN seems to think, by simply adding a huge mass of articles to the medium and hoping through sheer bulk they will get it right, but on an article by article, photo by photo, and video by video basis.

What is bound to happen with the Anti-CNN.com site is that it will receive much opposing criticism related to its own biases and ethics. This happens all the time with blog posts – and therein lies our gross error. Blogs, forums and other social avenues of discussion are not the media. As a blogger or poster on forums we may wish to illustrate our point as factually as possible, but we’ve no real obligation to do so. We can quote things out of context, crop photos in amusing and fallacious ways. We can editorialize all we want and deliver half-baked opinions on any and all topics. Our medium allows for it precisely because we are not the media.

We are not the ones with a professional obligation to deliver news in a factual and unbaised way, nor a responsibility to present events in a clear and concise light of non-predilection. And though the technology of our times allows for quite a bit of blurring between these two camps, it is more important now than ever that professional media outlets draw that line and give it substance.

Update: April 9/08

The Shanghaiist reports that Anti-CNN has been hacked (sourcing this post on The Dark Visitor). The front page of the site seems to be loading, but I couldn’t access the forum – may just be my connection though. Shanghaiist also points us to a rival site – anti-xinhua.com – which contains some basic photoshopping of everyone’s favorite despot, a rather weak answer to the thousands of threads anti-cnn.com is generating.