Tibet and the Information War
Rebecca Mackinnon of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre in Hong Kong does a great job of looking at how Chinese are increasingly skeptical of Western news agencies’ perceived bias about what has happened in Tibet:
Hopefully most of China’s netizens will draw the obvious conclusion: that in the end you shouldn’t trust any information source – Western or Chinese, professional or amateur, digital or analog – until and unless they have earned your trust.
She provides some great examples including the apparent cropping of photos on CNN.com to shape the story. It’s well worth a read.
Ethan Zuckerman takes issue with one BBC reporter who, he says, take all the criticism of coverage he has received as coming from government stooges: “In other words, there may be angry Chinese citizens contacting BBC reporters to complain about their coverage, but they’re being controlled by Chinese state media.” (There’s no link for the report so I can’t follow this up.)
This is a fascinating discussion, because it represents something of a watershed in different ways:
- What was originally perceived to be a crisis for China’s image of itself in the world may end up being something else. Too early to say yet;
- The first big international story that may, in the final analysis, be defined not by the (Western) mass media but by an online debate (kind word)/’information war’ (probably more accurate word);
- The extent to which a country/nation defines itself is drifting from an official function to an informal, online one. An online fightback, and one which is done by its passionate and angry citizen, has much more credibility than a state-sponsored one.
‘Stories’ are shaped early on and it’s a brave journalist who defies preconceptions and refuses to pander to them. (Brave usually because their editors will yell at them to provide copy and content to match their competitors, but also because they face viewer/reader harrassment.)
The Tibet story, which has not yet played itself out and may have more twists to come, is one of those stories any media should be mature enough to cover in a nuanced and unbiased way.