When devastating floods struck Zhengzhou in central China in August 2021, BBC journalists reporting on the disaster claimed that they encountered a lot of verbal abuse, both online and in real life. Chinese netizens accused BBC journalist Robin Brant of factual distortion and rumor-mongering at first, but things got slightly more out of hand as they resulted in a standoff between the BBC team and a group of angry locals. A statement issued by the BBC after the happenings claimed that their reporters were attacked by the "mob."
This was probably the most "hands-on" bout of hostility to occur between locals and foreign journalists reporting in China. Western media defined the incident as yet more proof that China was crushing freedom of speech, while Zhengzhou locals said they merely attempted to remind BBC journalists to deliver objective reports. This was not the first time for Chinese people to express their dissatisfaction with false reports on China circulated by Western media outlets, but this time around, in Zhengzhou, locals took matters into their own hands.
In this day and age, China has become an easy target for international media reports. It's fine that they are interested in China, but perhaps they should take a few minutes to ponder the Chinese public's skepticism toward them.
Their unpopularity among Chinese readers stems from many a Western media outlet's prejudiced China reports. "One million Uygurs locked up in concentration camps" or "mass sterilization programs," to large extent, their stories are spinning a yarn, rather than reflecting objective facts and data. It is this media hostility toward China that has offended the Chinese public, but this sense of opposition stretches well beyond the China topic; it targets other countries as well. For example, American media like to portray Mexicans as "criminals" and Russians as oppressors, to create a sense of their own supremacy.
A deeper analysis will find that such prejudice originates from the lack of social responsibility. The standing of Western media is based on the capital that backs them. Professional press ethics are to report the information of a certain event, but not to mislead readers. This is also the basic social responsibility the media should take on. However, this ingredient is intentionally missing among some media outlets when talking about selected topics happening within or outside their own borders. As a result, it's natural for the Chinese public to automatically link some Western media that had lost their credibility with fake news, a connotation which probably also holds up among other readers.
The media are obligated to deliver mainstream values and depict events via objective wording, helping the public better understand what's going on in a bid to push forward social progress on the whole. However, some Western media seemingly prefer to deliver disarrayed values under the "freedom of press" cloak.
Moreover, many outlets appear to be extremely interested in channeling the more negative news narrative, such as conflict and turmoil, believing that only these topics will attract more readers. Guided by this attitude, they begin to fabricate conflict-inspired stories and forge negativity when there is none to be found, deliberately turning a blind eye to any positive headlines. By doing so, their accounts are not only presenting a lack of moral and social responsibility, but might even border on the illegal.
No media should spread fake news just to increase readership or just because of prejudice. They're missing the point. The media are a key driver, pushing society forward, and thus are supposed to abide by the bottom line of the profession. Public trust is won by the media's accurate, all-round and objective broadcasting of news. Objectivity is the iron law of the press.
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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