CHINA: Bloggers battle Western media over bias

Western coverage of Tibetan riots sparks nationalism among Chinese netizens

By Winghei Kwok
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Friday, March 28, 2008

Despite the Chinese government's attempts to restrict media coverage about the riots in Tibet, Chinese have been able to read reports from CNN and the BBC and watch videos on YouTube. But rather than being moved to civil unrest, Chinese netizens sided with Beijing and criticized Western news coverage of Tibet, calling it inaccurate and prejudiced with anti-China sentiment.

One local, Rao Jin, created the website, which considers its mission "a struggle of resistance against western hegemonic discourse" and catalogues Western media news stories containing distortions. The number of visitors to the website has reached 100,000 since it was established on March 21, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription).

In a now-infamous Agence France-Presse photo that CNN ran cropped online, removing a group of Tibetan protesters stoning a military vehicle, Anti-CNN accused CNN of perpetuating Western media bias. In a statement to CNA (Chinese), CNN insisted its coverage was accurate but admitted to the cropping, saying it was an editorial choice.

Images, videos and eyewitness blogs (Chinese) and reports from Lhasa have fueled the online community's view that Western media's coverage is meant to affirm the Chinese government's oppressive image and to sabotage the Beijing Olympics.

EastSouthWestNorth translated a blog post by a Chinese netizen (Chinese) who accused Western media and the Western world of imposing imperialism in the guise of human rights concern.

"Previously, I did not particularly care about the Olympics because I did not feel that it had anything to do with me. But now the Olympics is like a pair of testicles that someone else is holding in his hands in a threatening manner, but his purpose is not to change the practical situation of the Chinese people at all," he wrote.

Bloggers have said Western media vilifies China while presenting Tibetans as heroic freedom fighters. The online community also said that while statements from pro-Tibet groups are received sympathetically, any favorable comments for the Chinese are discredited as government propaganda.

Western media such as the Wall Street Journal, the BBC and Washington Post have reported the negative sentiments, but doubt its authenticity. ABC News suggested the government was behind the nationalistic discussions online, and the BBC called it "a wider campaign by the Chinese government to make sure its version of events in Tibet and elsewhere is the dominant one."

To debunk the suggestion that Beijing joined forces with netizens, EastSouthWestNorth said Chinese netizens are "most resistant" against government censure and it is they, not Beijing, who fight against Western media.

The response to Western media coverage, however, is not entirely or doggedly nationalistic. Memedia wrote that while Western media was biased, some online reports that support China's side were inaccurate as well. Blogger LianYue said that the only way to resolve the media conflict over Tibet was for Beijing to permit local and international media free access to information.