News reporting should be fair and balanced

Updated: 2014-10-09 03:40


Chen Weihua

(China Daily USA)
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In the past years as China Daily's correspondent first in New York and now in Washington, I have taken time to interview those American China hands that have spent their lives working on China and relations between China and the United States.

Most of them have had rich and fascinating lives, to which a one-hour interview can rarely do justice. However regrettable, this is the reality facing many journalists who are increasingly being asked to do more with less.

On Tuesday, I received a handwritten letter from a veteran China hand I profiled lately. I thought it might be to point out errors in the story. Instead, he expressed his appreciation for the factual coverage, and lamented the fact that US journalism these days prefers "gotcha" stories; editors won't like a draft unless the reporters say negative or critical things.

This view was also voiced by Scott Talan, an ex-journalist and government official who now teaches at American University. He told a two-day China-US media forum in Washington on Monday that a US national publication wanted to interview him and hinted he should say something provocative and controversial about the current situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Talan rejected the request because that was not what he felt.News reporting should be fair and balanced

Many Western media outlets have displayed huge excitement in covering the "Occupy Central" protests in Hong Kong in recent days. Few, however, have given them any context, such as how much progress the current proposal for the 2017 chief executive election endorsed by the Standing Commission of the National People's Congress represents from the days of British rule before 1997. And none seems to care whether the protesters have actually violated the law in a society known for its rule of law.

As someone who followed closely the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York three years ago, I saw how the New York police arrested 700 protesters on Brooklyn Bridge. While my press pass saved me, a New York Times freelancer who could not produce her press pass was not as lucky. She was cuffed and taken away.

The police justified their action by saying the 700 who were crossing the bridge using the road instead of the sidewalks were violating traffic rules.

Ironically, the Occupy Wall Street protests, which were often met with police brutality, did not get much attention in the mainstream US media.

"Occupy Central" is newsworthy, but how to do it in an objective and balanced way seems to be a challenge for both Chinese and Western journalists. As one panelist at the media forum pointed out, while many Chinese see Western media coverage of China as biased, Westerners believe Chinese journalists cannot cover some events about their own countries in totality.

The kind of Western media enthusiasm in covering "Occupy Central" reminds people of two or three years ago when the same enthusiasm was seen in covering the "Arab Spring". Many journalists looked more like advocators or instigators then than reporters. But as the winner of the Egypt revolution turned out to be Muslim Brotherhood, these journalists, such as Anderson Cooper of CNN, suddenly lost interest in a cause they had cheered for. The same is true for regime change in Libya, which resulted in a civil war, and the arming of Syrian rebels, some of whom ended up joining the Islamic State group.

There is no doubt that Western journalists in China as a whole are doing a better job than many of their predecessors. However, in a commercial media world where ratings are everything, many still opt for easy and sensational journalism, rather than an in-depth and balanced approach.

Though not a fan at all of Fox News commentators, I like the channel's slogan for its news: fair and balanced. It doesn't mean that Fox News lives up to that. It just suggests that all journalists should strive to be fair and balanced in their reporting, instead of just trying to please their editors or audience.