CNN taken out of context on Ma remarks, poll

Taiwan's local, "sensationalistic" press are wrong to assume a CNN International anchor's remark indicates growing negative opinion of President Ma, writes 'The China Post'

The China Post
Monday, August 24, 2009

Over the past few days, the local news media has been abuzz in angry criticism of the U.S.-based Cable News Network.

According to these critics, CNN International anchorperson Ralitsa Vassileva harshly chided President Ma Ying-jeou while presenting a news story covering the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot.

The criticism has been broadcast on virtually every TV network and repeated ad nauseum in newspaper reports and on call-in talk radio programs.

Vassileva was accused of being so critical of President Ma that she even referred to him as "this man," rather than using his name or official title, when footage of his news conference was broadcast on CNN last Tuesday.

The results of an "opinion poll" on CNN's Web site, where Web surfers were asked if President Ma's government had handled the typhoon disaster poorly, were also cited as evidence that CNN was somehow joining the bandwagon of criticizing Ma Ying-jeou after more than 80 percent of respondents agreed with the critical statement.

Video of the CNN broadcast, where Vassileva can be heard saying "this man has been apologizing over and over again," has been posted on popular sites and viewed countless times.

Whenever local television reports have rebroadcast portions of this video, viewers have been told that it demonstrates the contempt that the international press has for Ma Ying-jeou.

The local press is completely wrong in making this assumption about CNN and its supposed intentions.

By going on the Web and actually watching the video in its entirety, it is clear to see that Vassileva was merely trying to provide some background information for live footage of President Ma's news conference that was being held at the Presidential Office in Taipei.

Vassileva referred to Ma Ying-jeou as the "president of Taiwan" on numerous occasions before saying "this man" and there was no sense of her attempting to somehow insult Ma or present him as being anything other than this country's president.

In describing the scene unfolding before the viewers, and without the benefit of a live translation of what Ma was saying, Vassileva apparently only said "this man" to refer to the individual (Ma) appearing in the center of the television screen.

In television news, it is common for reporters and anchors to direct the viewers' attention to what they are seeing on their screens, and there is no good reason to think that Vassileva and CNN intended to do otherwise.Providing a simple background to the footage just as Ma appeared at the center of the screen, Vassileva said that Taiwan's president was holding a news conference and said:

"This man has been apologizing over and over again, taking the blame, taking the responsibility for the slow response of the rescue mission to Typhoon Morakot. People have been so angry, blaming the government and demanding that he resign but he has refused to step down. There, you see the president of Taiwan explaining himself and his government again."

Clearly, this was just a simple description of recent events in Taiwan and Vassileva was not personally demanding that Ma step down.

Vassileva and CNN have no reason to apologize for this very minor incident.

The only ones who should be apologizing are the excessively sensationalistic Taiwan news media, who took the broadcast completely out of context and played the "this man" remark repeatedly in order to boost their own ratings.

Viewers in Taiwan, and even editors at local TV stations and newspapers, probably don't even realize that the CNN we view here in Taiwan is not the same network that is watched across the United States. Here in Asia, we only see "CNN International," which is broadcast on satellite outside of the United States and is completely separate from the news channel operated by CNN within the U.S. market.

The fact that the Bulgarian anchorperson Ralitsa Vassileva is not a native speaker of English has probably also escaped the shallow minds of editors and commentators here.

Unless she has had previous experience with our sensationalistic press before, it would not be surprising at all if Vassileva was completely unaware that her "this man" remark would cause a tempest in a teacup.

As for the so-called "poll" operated on CNN's Web site, this was hardly a scientific poll and CNN never claimed that its results should be taken seriously.

The "poll" results were merely generated by Web surfers clicking their mouses, leaving it completely open to manipulation by anyone. While CNN uses simple tactics like these to encourage more hits on its Web site, the network has never taken the results of these "polls" seriously.

It is ridiculous to hint that CNN's management somehow influenced the results of this completely unscientific "poll" and even more ridiculous to cite the results of this Web gimmick in news reporting here in Taiwan.