“Foreign media reports that police tortured a detained lawyer is FAKE NEWS, fabricated to tarnish China’s image,” People’s Daily tweeted on March 3. The wording of the tweet, written to mimic the style of U.S. President Donald Trump, struck a nerve with some readers.
In February, Trump called the U.S. media “the enemy of the American people.” His language suggests that major U.S. media outlets, including The New York Times and CNN, are hostile and subversive organizations. If the leader of the world’s leading democratic government can’t trust the Western media, why should the rest of the world?
Trump has given the world no reason to trust the Western media: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. A great danger to our country,” Trump tweeted. “‘The failing [New York Times] does major FAKE NEWS China story saying [Chinese President Xi Jinping] has not spoken to [me] since Nov.14.’ We spoke at length yesterday!” “The FAKE NEWS media…is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” “The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred.”
China has long claimed that some Western media outlets have a bias against China, especially on issues of human rights. At the same time, the West remains committed to using the issue of human rights against China. For example, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing on March 1, calling for the Trump Administration to reprioritize human rights. The argument made at the hearing is that free trade has failed to transform China so more should be done.
Many Americans agree that media bias is a problem, and coverage about Trump is overwhelming negative. Likewise, coverage about China is generally more negative than positive. Western enthusiasm for protests or "Tibet independence" receive substantially more coverage than less dramatic news, such as the fact that Tibet is now one of China’s fastest growing regions.
The true face of the Western media. In 2008, coverage of the March 14 riots in Lhasa was distorted by the West, according to a video uploaded to YouTube. The video, which has been viewed almost 1.5 million times, provides examples of how the Western media misjudged and modified photographs of the incident to smear China. A photo from the Washington Post showing a Nepal police officer cracking down on Tibetan protestors in Kathmandu, Nepal, is described as China’s government cracking down on Tibetan protestors in Lhasa, Tibet; a photograph from the BBC showing rescue workers is used to show “a heavy military presence in Lhasa”; and a photograph from CNN is modified to leave out violence by local Tibetans.
More recently, Chinese students at the University of California San Diego in the U.S. protested an upcoming speech by the Dalai Lama. In the official announcement, there is a bias in favor of the Dalai Lama and his activities. The University describes the Dalai Lama as “the exiled spiritual head and leader of the Tibetan people,” but fails to mention that he is not a pure religious activist, but a political exile who has been engaging in secessionist activities for a long time.
According the above-mentioned People’s Daily tweet, even the lawyer who made up the fake story of torture knew how to cater to the taste of the Western media, which is “keen to report negative China stories.” When he later confessed, he said he was fully aware that negative stories of torture would attract foreign media coverage.
In spite of controversy, Trump has challenged the claim that the Western media is objective and truthful. His claim does make sense given the fact that the mainstream media regularly casts Trump in an unfavorable light in an effort to delegitimize his presidency and to embarrass and undermine his administration. Likewise, China is frequently cast in an unfavorable light in an effort to delegitimize Communist Party rule. In particular, China is regularly criticized on issues of human rights.
China’s human rights record has been criticized for years by the Western media, but China’s tremendous human rights achievements are either downplayed or entirely ignored.
The right to development is a human right, recognized by the United Nations. Since initiating market reforms in 1978, The World Bank credits China with lifting more than 800 million people out of poverty. To put that in perspective, the U.S. population on July 4, 2016, was more than 323 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. In roughly 40 years, China lifted a population out of poverty roughly the size of the populations of the U.S., Indonesia, and Brazil combined. In 2016 alone, China lifted more people out of poverty than the entire population of Belgium. China’s leaders have even vowed to eradicate poverty in the country by 2020. Without question, China is leading the way in creating conditions favorable to the realization of the right to development.
The fake news debate might be a relatively fresh debate in the West, but China has been battling fake news by the Western media for years. False narratives about China are frequently served up, positive facts are overlooked, and some information is even hyped up to serve their political agenda. Rather than slander Trump, or China for that matter, the Western media should look in the mirror and reflect on why a sitting U.S. President is lashing out at them.