US media casualties point to lack of freedom for American journalists

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-26 14:41
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NEW YORK - For a long time, saying politically incorrect things in China would result in severe consequences. But it seems that this is also true for US journalists these days.

US media casualties point to lack of freedom for American journalists

Two American journalists, 89-year-old White House reporter Helen Thomas and 44-year-old senior CNN Middle East editor Octavia Nasr were among the latest casualties.

Thomas, who shares her Aug 4 birthday with US President Barack Obama, was forced to retire in early June for telling a rabbi on May 27 that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine".

Nasr, who had worked at CNN for 20 years, was immediately fired after she posted a Twitter message, expressing her admiration for Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who passed away recently.

She said she was sad to hear of Fadlallah's death and described Fadlallah as "one of Hizbollah's giants I respected a lot".

Although Nasr later explained she was referring to Fadlallah's attitude toward women's rights since the cleric had ordered the banning of so-called "honor killing" of women and had given women the right to hit their husbands if attacked first, CNN would still not tolerate her different view.

It is debatable whether Nasr and Thomas were right in their remarks, or whether Fadlallah should be loved or loathed.

What is deeply disturbing in several recent incidents is whether there is a true freedom of expression in the US media, or whether reporters and editors ought to say what is only politically correct in mainstream society, instead of what is true according to their sharp observations.

Would news organizations such as CNN want Nasr to be dishonest and tell lies, to say she hates Fadlallah? Would Americans like to see Thomas, known as a courageous voice in the White House press corps and who outlasted nine US presidents since she began covering the White House in the 1960s, to leave just because she said a few offensive words, for which she apologized later?

The two cases show that the most trusted news that people have been watching may not be all that trustworthy since politically incorrect things have been filtered out or censored.

Although CNN does not like its senior editors to express personal views different from most Americans in order to remain "objective", the network has taken sides in its reporting for years by airing programs such as its tribute to fallen soldiers, saluting to Americans who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By producing and airing such a program, CNN shows it is incapable of taking an objective attitude in covering the wars the US is involved in. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and civilians who killed in the wars have rarely been covered by CNN and other media organizations.

This bias has been proved time and again when US journalists are embedded with the military and file stories sympathetic only to US forces.

The US media often deride countries such as China for conducting patriotism campaigns, but a report about how moving an act of patriotism can be goes way beyond imagination.

CNN and many others reported early this month that homeless man Gustus Bozarth in El Paso, Texas, rescued a national flag and folded it military style during a storm, describing the act as patriotic.

In fact, major US TV networks have been careful to appear as patriotic to their viewers after the attack on Sept 11, 2001, thereby compromising the ideal of a free press and journalism objectivity.

Many, such as Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who is also a legal scholar of First Amendment and freedom of speech, are worried about the survival of the US media, which is under great financial difficulties. What seems to be truly worrying is that political correctness is intimidating and killing excellent American journalists.

On the other hand, the Chinese media landscape, though still having multiple problems, has become more open and professional in the past 30 years, according to several well-respected American journalists. They also spoke highly of Al Jazeera, an international news network from the Middle East that also broadcasts in English, for doing good journalism.

It seems while the environment for pursuing journalism deteriorates in the US, those born in parts of the world, which are often underreported or unfairly reported by the Western media, have become more aggressive in "telling the untold stories, promoting debates and challenging the established perceptions", the catchphrase for Al Jazeera.

Analysts believe that like most developing countries, China, being a large and populous country, still belongs to the voiceless on the Western-dominated international news media market. So the going global of news media from China and other developing world fits the journalism goal of "speaking for the voiceless."

Tomorrow: China's asset declaration regulation for officials