4/17/2009

缺乏中国新闻与偏见无关

Los Angeles Times OPINION

Lack of news about China has nothing to do with bias

Comprehensive foreign coverage doesn't fit into the financial structure of traditional mainstream media.


By Timothy Garton Ash

April 16, 2009

In China, there is a widespread belief that Western media give a distorted picture of what's happening there. There's some truth in this, but it's not for the reasons that Chinese Communist Party members or nationalist "netizens" imagine.

Most Westerners with a mild interest in China probably see a lot of stories about Tibet, the upcoming anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, corruption and popular discontent. They see less about the extent of popular support for the system, bright students still joining the Communist Party or experiments in economic and political reform, especially at the provincial and local levels.

However, this slant is not because of "anti-China" policy or prejudice. Hard as it may be for many Chinese to believe -- because their own media reflect the policy of their party-state -- Western governments have almost nothing to do with it. The cause lies in the West's commercial news business, which is going through one of those "gales of creative destruction" that Joseph Schumpeter saw to be characteristic of capitalism.

As they compete fiercely for readers and viewers, mainstream Western media tend to stick with stories that are familiar and interesting to them. They report about Tibet not because they are ideological China-bashers but because their consumers are fascinated by and care about Tibet.

Yes, their news stories on China's domestic politics tend to the sensational and the negative -- so do their stories about the domestic politics of their own countries. Those who edit and select these stories are just following the market-oriented rules of their trade: If it bleeds, it leads. Good news is no news. "Many Chinese city-dwellers moderately content with rising standard of living" is not a headline that would sell many papers.

The real problem with China coverage in the mainstream Western media is not its negativity; it's simply that there's too little of it, given the growing importance of China and the fact that Chinese culture and society is so different from ours. Western media should not be writing less about the Dalai Lama or the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen anniversary, but they should be writing more about the other stories that make up China's complex, unfolding drama.

Alas, the trend is in the opposite direction, toward less foreign news of all kinds. The reason for this too is mainly economic. As advertising revenues fall, costly foreign bureaus close. That's bad news for news and also for international relations.

In a fine essay in the New Republic, Princeton scholar Paul Starr argues that news is a public good. Like clean air and good roads, it benefits not just those who directly pay for it. I extend his argument to foreign policy. In today's interconnected world, countries must understand each other, which depends on knowing the social facts and individual human stories that are the meat and drink of foreign news reporting.

So, as Comrade Lenin taught us to ask, what is to be done? A prime example of the wrong answer was given by China's ambassador to the European Union, Song Zhe. In a speech recently excerpted in the China Daily, Song says European and Chinese correspondents should "make their news reporting and commentary conducive to consensus, trust and cooperation" and "respect the other's theory of development, policy choice and cultural values."

No. That may be the business of ambassadors. It is not the business of journalists -- and especially not of reporters. Their job is to report accurately, fairly and vividly what they see, hear, smell and read. To tell it as it is. And thus, to recall a Chinese maxim favored by Deng Xiaoping, to "seek truth from facts."

All that remains is to do it. But actually, if you are interested and know where to look, that is already being done. A couple of hours on the Web, armed with a few tips, will lead you to an Aladdin's cave of rich, diverse, detailed reporting and analysis of China. (Try chinadigitaltimes.net and danwei.org as a first "open sesame.") Much of this is not fact-checked or balanced in a professional way, but it is subject to another kind of scrutiny, with bloggers mercilessly pointing out what they see as errors, distortions or omissions.

Meanwhile, leading Western journals such as the Economist, the New Yorker and the Atlantic carry long, original and thoroughly fact-checked articles from China. While I was in Beijing, I saw a report on BBC World News television about farmers who had given up their rural homes for urban development, having been promised a new school for their children. The promise had not yet been kept. Anti-China bias? Not at all. As it seeks truth from facts, the BBC is holding high the banner of Deng Xiaoping thought.

So where's the catch? In my lament at the top of this column, I was careful to refer to what most Western readers and viewers see most of the time. Starr, in his essay, makes a useful distinction between availability and exposure. China-news junkies can find a great daily hit. What is under threat is the broad, serendipitous daily exposure to news of the world that comes from turning the pages of a newspaper over your morning tea.

It's no use mewling over bygone glories of a probably mythical golden age of foreign reporting. The point now is to work out how to exploit the tremendous potential of new media so as to expose more of the people, more of the time, to reliable and interesting foreign news. More than just the future of journalism will depend on it.

Timothy Garton Ash, a contributing editor to Opinion,is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor of European studies at Oxford University.

4月17日《参考消息》摘译,题:西方媒体为何专盯中国负面新闻

【英国《卫报》网站4月16日文章】(实为美国《洛杉矶时报》文章——福禄祯祥注)题:我们越是需要了解更多外国新闻,收到的却越少(作者 英国牛律大学教授蒂莫西·加顿·阿什)

前不久我去中国的时候听到这样的抱怨,说西方媒体对中国的发展变化总是进行歪曲报道。我认为这有一定的道理,但理由与中国共产党员或民族主义的网民想像的不太一样。

大多数对中国不太热心的西方报纸读者和电视观众确实看到了许许多多关于西藏、腐败和公众不满意的报道。他们很少看到对共产主义制度的广泛支持度、仍有大批优秀学生加入共产党或政治经济改革试点的报道。

然而,这种倾向不是出于中国官员指责的“反华”政策或偏见。令很多中国人难以置信的是,他们自己的媒体是党和国家政策的体现,而西方国家的政府却与媒体几乎没有任何联系。最主要的原因在于西方商业新闻产业的经济学和职业动力。

在激烈争夺读者与观众的过程中,西方主流媒体往往盯住一些读者和观众熟知和感兴趣的少数话题。他们对西藏进行了如此多的报道,并不是因为他们是意识形态上的中国批评者,而是因为西藏能引起消费者的强烈兴趣和关注。

的确,他们对中国国内政策的新闻报道往往是耸人听闻的和负面的——但他们对自己国家的国内政治的报道也是如此。那些编辑和选取这些新闻的人只不过是服从于他们这个行业里的市场原则:越负面,越有人看;爆炸性新闻是最有市场的;好消息等于没有消息。“很多中国城市居民对日益提高的生活水平感到比较满意”不会成为帮助报纸热销的头条新闻。

西方主流媒体的中国报道中更大的问题并不在于其负面性,而在于考虑到中国日益增强的重要性和中国文化和社会与西方的巨大不同,对中国的报道太少了。西方媒体不必要减少对达赖的报道,但应当多写写组成异彩纷呈的中国画卷的其他故事。

遗憾的是,趋势却在向着相反的方向发展:大多数人阅读的报纸和观看的国内电视台中的外国新闻变少了。原因主要也是经济问题。收集国外新闻的成本太高。随着广告收入减少,花销巨大的驻外机构被关闭。对新闻来说,这是个坏消息。

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