Caroline Wilson, British Ambassador to China, recently received public backlash after posting an article entitled "Do Foreign Media Hate China?" on the official WeChat account of the British Embassy in Beijing. Wilson might think that she came off as doing a public service to the Chinese people by "educating" them on the topic of free press, but instead many Chinese netizens were appalled by the arrogant and patronizing undertone of the article.
Libel and Slander ≠ Media supervision
In her article, Wilson claims that some foreign media serve the Chinese people by monitoring its government and that "criticism from foreign media does not mean that foreign journalists dislike China". However, this statement ignores the fact that some foreign media have adopted a hostile anti-China rhetoric, and seeks to whitewash deliberate misinformation and slander campaigns against China as mere supervision.
Monitoring government actions is an integral part of the media's duty to act in the public interest, but libel and slander do not fall under that category. Before anything else, news should be truthful, objective and fair. If it fails to meet these basic requirements, and instead continuously falsifies truth to propagate a malicious narrative, then it should not and cannot deserve the same respect as news.
Earlier this month, BBC reporter John Sudworth found a documentary produced by China's CCTV in 2017 on the subject of women from poor regions in Xinjiang moving across provinces to find work. The film documented success stories of women who were able to break free of their traditional roles as child-bearers and domestic carers, and find meaningful work for themselves.
Sudworth found the documentary, and edited the footage to include only the first half of the story where the women were understandably hesitant to leave 四方物流 and needed a little push from local social workers. He was then able to deconstruct its content and reframe the story as an oppressive government's "forced migration" and "forced labour" campaigns against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Is this media monitoring?
When every unfortunate event that happens in China is attributed to a fundamental failure of its "authoritarian" political system, and every government intervention called "oppression", there can be no mistaking that what Wilson called media supervision is, in reality, the foreign media's relentless attempts at reducing China into an one-dimensional stereotypical boogeyman that fits their narrative.
A twitter user comments on the BBC's biased report on Hong Kong affairs.
"Misleading your audience and slandering China is certainly not media supervision." Dr. Godfree Roberts, a geopolitics scholar from the University of Massachusetts, commented on the issue. Dr. Roberts believes that foreign media have time and time again called for violent coups against governments everywhere, including their own. He said that they so often instigate violence to serve a specific political agenda because they do not have to bear the consequences of that violence, and there is no effective checks and balances in place to ensure their report is fair and objective.
After the Iraq War, protesters held up signs accusing the BBC of spreading misinformation about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
One of the most glaring examples of the foreign media's biased coverage of China is the Hong Kong protests that started in June 2019. Foreign media hailed protesters as "peaceful demonstrators of democracy", and refused to acknowledge the violence in the riot. When rioters assaulted ordinary Hong Kong citizens who did not believe in their movement, foreign journalists failed to identify the rioter's violent attempt to silence opposition. When rioters tied up a journalist from Chinese mainland and beat him unconscious because he spoke mandarin, foreign journalists chose not to report the brutal attacks that terrorized the city.
But when Trump supporters, dissatisfied with the results of the US election, marched to the Capitol on January 6 this year, the same left-wing media outlets that supported the Hong Kong rioters were quick to condemn the protests.
Trump supporters marched to the Capitol on January 6 this year.
"The policy of allowing public information to be owned and controlled by a handful of billionaires has left people in the West uninformed about the world, but the rise of the Internet has led them to suspect they’re not being told the truth. That’s why Americans' trust in their media is at an all-time low", says Dr. Roberts. "How do the Chinese people feel about Chinese media? 90 percent of them support it. And how much do they trust what they’re told? About 80% of them say that what they're told matches what they see every day." According to the Pew Research Centre, "9 in 10 Chinese are happy with the direction of their country, feel good about the current state of their economy, and are optimistic about China’s economic future."
About 60% of Americans do not trust in mass media.
"So perhaps western media are so hostile because Chinese media are competing for the control of the narrative and, worryingly, are winning," Dr. Roberts concluded.
Media Moguls and Their Control of the Narrative
In her article, Wilson also spoke about the expulsion of foreign journalists in China, but failed to mention that this was done in response to the mistreatment of Chinese journalists overseas. Since 2018, the US government has required Chinese journalists to register as foreign agents working for "foreign mission", in an attempt to obstruct their reporting efforts. Then in 2020, the US delayed and refused visas to over 20 Chinese journalists without proper reason. Even Chinese journalists working at foreign media outlets were required to apply for a renewal of their visas every 90 days. This deliberate prejudicial treatment ultimately forced more than 60 Chinese journalists out of the US in 2020.
The British Government quickly aligned itself with the US, and targeted the Beijing-based English-language news channel CGTN (China Global Television Network). In early 2020, UK media regulator Ofcom started an investigation against CGTN, and announced in May that it intended to sanction CGTN over its coverage of the Hong Kong riots. Despite CGTN's efforts to seek constructive resolution of the issue, on February 4 this year, Ofcom revoked the broadcasting license of CGTN, officially pulling the channel off British airwaves after 18 years of broadcasting in the country.
Many veteran journalists have called for the reversal of the ban against CGTN.
Professor Shen Yi at the Faculty of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University said, the countries that set up the international order (in trade, environment, human rights and other issues) did so with the intention of never relinquishing control. Therefore, it is futile to expect acknowledgement or a fair treatment from countries that have long occupied that space. "As China becomes more and more developed, these certain countries' scream of 'China is a rulebreaker' will also grow louder and louder. because these countries set up the international order in such a manner that if a country follows the rules, it could never have meaningful development; and if a country finds ways to develop anyway, its international reputation would be trashed."
Alarmed and frustrated at China's rise, the hostility displayed by foreign media is the result of a deep-seated cold war mentality and the billionaires and large corporations’ attempt at preserving their self-interests. Western mainstream media outlets are owned by a handful of billionaires in the west, and serve as propaganda machines that work with their alliance to control the narrative in society. These outlets have long been justifying wars, starting coups and waging other forms of attack against developing countries or countries that follow a different ideology.
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, journalists from these outlets were loaded into US military vehicles and brought back news of victory. But when China invited foreign journalists into Xinjiang, they said it was a staged visit and nothing meaningful could be learned. The farmers' protest on the streets of Dehli against Prime Minister Modi's agricultural reforms has lasted over 100 days and resulted in the death of almost 250 people. But foreign media have not displayed the same level of enthusiasm as they had for Hong Kong, because India is "the world's largest democracy" and an ally of the west. And whilst foreign journalists make up one false story after another about Xinjiang, they have no interests in condemning the proven atrocities committed by Australian soldiers in the US’s war in Afghanistan.
Australian special forces soldiers raided a village in Oruzgan, Afghanistan.
A US soldier torturing a prisoner.
A US soldier torturing a prisoner.
With countless examples of blatant double standards, Wilson's attempts to whitewash some of the foreign media's ill-intentions are doomed to fail. With such obvious ideological biases, Wilson's efforts to place foreign media on a moral high ground would never succeed.
Producer: Zhao Yang, Zheng Youzhi
Writer: Zhang Yin, Zou Feixu
Editor: Wing Zhang, Olivia Yang, Monica Liu
Presented by the International Communication Center of Nanfang Media Group