Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

International channels more informative than US cable news

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily) Updated: 2016-05-16 11:08

It's all too easy for some Americans to dismiss the Chinese news media as nothing but government propaganda, as Joseph Nye, a Harvard University professor, mentioned in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on May 11.

International channels more informative than US cable news

He was referring to Chinese news organizations like CCTV, which have expanded globally from the United States to Africa and South America.

What Nye, a respected thinker in global affairs, missed is that Americans could be far better informed about the rest of the world by watching CCTV America than by watching the main US cable news networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

The same would be true if Americans tuned in to France 24, NHK World and RT, the other international broadcasters that report breaking news from around the world, something US cable news networks no longer do.

So early Sunday morning, while CCTV and France 24 were reporting the latest tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, RT was covering the civil war in Yemen and NHK was talking about the G7 in Japan, such news did not make it on to the 24/7 US cable news line-ups, even though the US has been more of a key player in all those places than most other nations.

TV has remained the top source of news for Americans, as revealed by various polls, but the only news that audiences get these days from cable news networks is about the 2016 US presidential election - Did presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump impersonate his own publicist in 1991? Will Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton turn up the heat on Trump's holding out on releasing his taxes? Does Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders have the best chance of beating Trump?

There is no news about Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, where civil strife is directly linked to US intervention.

The only exception on CNN may be the Sunday GPS Program hosted by Fareed Zakaria, which provides a weekly peek at a few hot-button global issues.

Unlike US cable news that relies on a stable of talking heads to interpret the news, the international broadcasters are far more objective, providing just straight news and hard facts.

That list of international broadcasters should still include Al Jazeera America, which closed just last month. The Nation praised the network for producing "some of the best fact-based, socially liberal TV reporting in the United States in recent years".

No wonder former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said last October that the vast majority of Americans don't have a clue what's happening on the world scene.

Over the years, people from CNN anchor John King to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly have also sighed about how uninformed Americans are about the world around them.

Neither Brzezinski nor King or O'Reilly blame US cable news networks, which Americans depend on as a major news source, for failing to inform Americans on global news.

A PublicMind survey by Fairleigh Dickson University in 2012 found that people who tune in to cable news outlets such as Fox News, CNN and MSNBC tended to answer fewer current events questions correctly compared with audiences of even talk radio and talk shows such as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (now with Trevor Noah). NPR, which I tune to while driving, turns out to be the most informative, according to the survey.

A 2014 study of public perception in 14 countries by Ipsos MORI found that US residents ranked as second least informed in its Index of Ignorance, better only than Italy, but worse than France, Canada, Japan, Germany and Sweden.

It might be interesting for Nye to assign his students to find out whether people watching CCTV America are better informed about the world than those watching only US cable news, where ratings trump everything.

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