How To Find The Truth About Lhasa?
(Chang Ping's blog) Where does the truth about Lhasa come from? April 3, 2008.
When the Lhasa incident occurred, rumors were spreading all over the streets even as the Chinese media kept its usual silence. For several days, the Chinese media only carried the brief bulletins and speeches from the leaders of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In the bulletins, there was only one description of the incident: "Recently, a small number of people in Lhasa engaged in assaulting, vandalizing, looting and arson." This was just an ordinary brief news item. But the people can tell from the strong condemnations of the Dalai Lama clique that this incident was no small thing, and therefore they set out to find out more. Based upon past experience, many people obtained the additional information from the overseas media. At around this time, several forum posts and videos that exposed fake reporting by overseas media appeared and gained popularity. This quickly became an Internet incident in which the Chinese citizens angrily condemned the western media. Several websites appeared with names such as "anti-CNN," "anti-BBC" and "anti-VOA."
According to information compiled by netizens, certain media in countries such as Germany, United States, United Kingdom and India made clear factual errors in their reporting. From the viewpoint of journalistic professionalism, these slips were very wrong, even deliberately misleading. Although some media outlets have issued apologies and corrections, the damage from the inaccurate news was already done and the Chinese people find it hard to forgive. Like any kind of fake news, the damage is first and foremost on the public trust in the media themselves, because ten thousand truths cannot undo one lie. If in the reporting of the incident (as well as other major incidents), the Chinese media are not allowed to report freely and the overseas media are suspect, then where is the truth going to come from?
According to certain netizens who were exposing the fake reporting by overseas media, they want to use their action to show the truth about Lhasa to the world. This assertion is logically incorrect, because their actions can only let people see that the western media are not reporting the truth accurately. But what happened in Lhasa? Most Chinese people have only seen the unified press release issued by their government several days later. When the news comes from a single exclusive source, I cannot say that it is fake but I cannot accept that it is true either. The overseas media have mostly described this as "the truth that the Chinese government has carefully scripted." After the government organized the group of overseas media to visit Tibet, their reports were mostly untranslated in Chinese. Given the fervor of the campaign to condemn the western media, not many people would believe those reports even if translated.
The anger is still spreading. Even though anti-CNN.com states that "We are not against the media themselves; we are only against the unobjective reporting done by certain media outlets; we are not against western people, but we are against bigotry." But the facts are different. Many netizens have gone to the opposite extreme end. They even began in the opposite direction from the first place: They do not care if the news is objective and fair; they do not care if the media hold certain positions; biases are not totally unacceptable; rather, the key is just which side you are on. If the netizens genuinely care about news values, they should not only be exposing the fake reports by the western media and they should also be challenging the control by the Chinese government over news sources and the Chinese media. There is no doubt that the harm from the latter is even worse than the former. When individual media outlets make fake reports about real events, it is easy to correct because just a few meticulous Chinese netizens can do the job. When media control is exercised by the state authorities, the whole world is helpless.
Certain Chinese citizens have seen that fake reporting and biases are not the most scary thing. In an open opinion field with adequate revelations and discussions, there will always be the opportunity to reach truth and justice. The successful counterattack by the netizens against overseas media this time is a very good example. The first people to notice and react were the Chinese overseas students. Their exposÚs were freely circulated on the Internet and the YouTube presentation was red-hot. But if these Internet media were also restricted, then it would have been much more difficult to expose the story.
The biggest harm to news values by these fake reports is that many people have chosen to abandon their trust in objectivity and fairness and hence seek refuge in narrow nationalism. They draw the conclusion that talks of universal values are all deceptive tricks used to cover up underlying national interests. They even say that it is standard international practice to tell lies, and therefore they forgive the lies around them now and in the past. Of course, these people were thinking this way before all this but the media incident this time gave them a piece of evidence to propagandize to others.
But I also see that many Chinese people have taken this opportunity to engage in broader discussions and deeper thinking. They found out that the bigotry of the western people against China is based upon a sense of cultural superiority. The warning message is that when the Han people are facing the ethnic minorities, do they also have the same cultural superiority that leads to bigotry? The distorted western reports about China came from an unwillingness to listen and understand because they are too engaged in the sort of Orientalism that Edward Said wrote about. But what about us and the ethnic minorities? If we use nationalism as the weapon to resist the westerners, then how can we persuade the ethnic minorities to abandon their nationalism and join the mainstream nation-building? The Dalai Lama asked the Chinese government to reassess him, so what kind of person is he really? Apart from the official government position, will the media be permitted to discuss the matter freely and uncover more truths?
(My1510.cn blog) Is Southern Metropolis Daily anti-China? The Reckless Populism. By Shen Yuzhe. April 6, 2008.
Chang Ping is a Chinese traitor and the Southern Metropolis Daily is the Chinese edition of CNN. This must seem bizarre upon first reading. So how can the civilian campaign to condemn the western media for biased coverage of the Tibet incident involve the Southern Metropolis Daily? On April 3, Southern Metropolis Weekly deputy editor-in-chief Chang Ping published an essay titled <Tibet: The Truth and Populism>. This essay called for our government to forsake news censorship to guarantee the free flow of information in order to smash the smears from the overseas media. But the essayist was promptly labelled a "Chinese traitor" and a "running dog" by the populists. Even more, they had proposed "shutting down the newspaper" and punishing any Chinese media which collude with foreign forces. This type of hysterical response can only give people the impression that the Cultural Revolution is back in business. The era in which people tried to outdo each other to defend Chairman Mao is back with us again.
After the March 14 incident in Tibet, the comments from the officials and civilians blanketed everywhere. There were people who condemned the Tibetan separatists; they were people who opposed the Beijing action to quell the riots; there were hot-blooded patriots; there were rational thinkers; etc. But once the overseas media were "asked" to exit Tibet, things changed. All of a sudden, Chinese internal politics became an attempt by western powers to subvert the Chinese government using the information provided by Dharamsala and other overseas organizations close to the Dalai Lama working in tandem with the traditional anti-Communist stances. The political weight of the Tibet incident was raised during this Olympics year for the boycott movement.
I don't know if people noticed Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang's rebuttal to the question from the reporter for Deutsche Presse Agentur: "Let us draw an analogy. If someone is hungry and does not have money to buy something to eat, can he go and steal or rob a bank? This is the logic of a robber." Even as people praised how the spokesperson righteously defended the dignity of China, they all forgot just what the Deutsche Presse Agentur reporter had asked:
I am the reporter from the Deutsche Presse Agentur. Right now we can obtain relevant information only from the Tibetan exiles. We don't want to be doing this. But we are unable to obtain more information from the relevant Chinese departments. We want to be able to confirm the relevant information with the local government in order to make objective reports, but it has been very hard.
By comparing the question with the answer, I suddenly realized that the spokesperson for our country was so shameless and stupid. He will not express any hint of apology for the loss of accuracy in the news reporting due to the standard news censorship under the system. Instead, he wondered why the overseas media refused to believe in the propaganda reports in CCTV, People's Daily and the Xinhua agency and chose instead to twist, distort and, misread and "commit robbery."
Chang Ping wrote that "the anti-western media presentation was red-hot popular on YouTube. If these Internet media were also restricted, the process of exposing the story would be more difficult." What does that mean? The Chinese netizens were making a difficult breakthrough: on one hand, they had to break through the information lockdown imposed by the Chinese government; on the other hand, they were criticizing the western media for abandoning professional ethics to engage in smearing. Faced with the this unexpected political storm, the initial response by the Chinese authorities was to lock down the information first. Thus, YouTube became the first casualty. Even as outsiders questioned why the Chinese government would want to lock down Internet if they had nothing to hide, the sentiments of the Chinese people were to "make allowance for" the government's action in order to restore national pride on a united front.
Everybody knows that "news without borders" is just an abstract slogan. Behind it stands the fact that "all media have states" and that is the source for the sharp opposition between Chinese and western media. Alternately, one might say that the western media are ignorant. Much of this ignorance exists as prejudice by the West against Red China, especially against the Chinese Communist Party; it is also an ignorance based pon the total bankruptcy of public trust in the official media. Enough has been said about the first part so there is no point in repetition. As for the latter, there was a civilian about "Don't be too CCTV" about fake news from the mouthpiece of propaganda, but that never really touched upon the uniquely Chinese system of news control and its immense harm to the image of China.
Once upon a time, there was a debate between Hu Jiwei and Hu Qiaomu about whether the <People's Daily> should stand for the Party or the people. Following the resignation of the Hu Jiwei as the publisher of <People's Daily>, the assumption was the iron rule that a Party newspaper should follow the direction of the Party. In China, there was no glorious history for newspapers that stand for the people. Overseas journalists therefore regard the Chinese media as part of the Party since they regard it is as natural logic to always defend the official story. After the overseas media were "expelled" from Tibet, the western reporters who resent the official Beijing propaganda could only determine what is happening in Tibet like blind men feeling an elephant. This is not to find an excuse for the distorted reporting by CNN and other media. Rather, this is just pouring cold water on the populist extremists who take glory in the Chinese government refusing to reflect on itself.
A while ago, the <Yanhuang Chunqiu> publisher Du Daozheng was interviewed by <Asia Weekly> and disclosed the following story: "For the Seventeenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the authorities wanted to control the overseas media tightly because they were worried about the penchant for these media to publish those negative reports about China. But the authorities opened up a bit and found that the effect was not bad. The Zhongnanhai leader in charge of ideology and media recently concluded: 'It was hard to imagine that the overseas media wrote about us and said so many nice things. They were quite objective, and achieved effects that we could not do by saying those things ourselves. We need to continue to be open in the future." There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of these words from Du Daozheng. But we have to note the irony when we contrast the scene in which reporters were expelled during the Tibet affair with the conclusion by the Zhongnanhai leader. If even the leader in charge of ideology who is well-known to be conservative can see that an open overseas media can report about China in a fair and objective manner, then why do they slap themselves in the face over the Tibet affair?
Coming back to the essay by Chang Ping, it is not hard to see that he was only issuing a gentle reminder about a public relations crisis from the viewpoint of a Chinese news worker. We should listen and try to understand dissent, and this is very different from identifying with and approving, much less aiding and abetting the enemy. This is a warning to all those people who are intoxicated by the carnival atmosphere of the populist xenophobia.
The Tibet problem is a landmine of history, religious, culture and politics that has just exploded. We are surprised to find out that we don't know who triggered off the explosion. How many of the nationalistic patriots are familiar with Tibetan history and humanities? How many of them know about the entanglements between the Dalai Lama and Beijing? How many dare to question whether someone is magnifying the small problem of western media distorting and twisting the Tibet issue in order to turn attention from contemplating and evaluating the Chinese government policies towards Tibetans (and other ethnic minorities)? If so, then let us look at the mild call from Chang Ping to the government: "Apart from the official government position, will the media be permitted to discuss the matter freely and uncover more truths?" If this call is followed through and the entanglements between the Hans and Tibetans are cleared up once and for all, then what is there left for the western media to howl about?