Debate over Western media's reports on China

Mr Yang Fuqing said that while international press coverage of China was increasing and becoming more positive, the coverage by media organisations such as the BBC and CNN still lacked balance.
Mr Yang Fuqing said that while international press coverage of China was increasing and becoming more positive, the coverage by media organisations such as the BBC and CNN still lacked balance.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese media chief says coverage not balanced; foreign press cites lack of access

The topic of discussion was why foreign media gets it wrong in its coverage of certain countries, but the debate became one of whether Western media selectively reported news on China in a way that is not balanced.

On the first day of the global media summit by the China Global Television Network yesterday, the deputy director of the state-owned network's English channel, Mr Yang Fuqing, contended that Western media lacked the will to report on China in a balanced way.

He was rebutted by Agence France-Presse's (AFP) global editor-in-chief, Mr Phil Chetwynd, who said that if reporters cannot go to places where they want to go or speak to people they want to, they will "inevitably come back with a partial picture".

Mr Yang sparked the heated debate during a panel session when he said that while international press coverage of China was increasing and becoming more positive, the coverage by media organisations such as the BBC and CNN still lacked balance.

"They don't lack information; it's the will, if you want to use the right information or if you want to believe in what the Chinese media is presenting," he added.

Mr Chetwynd pointed out that media outlets like the AFP are so global in what they do and have such diverse groups of people that in fact "there really is no perspective that we bring to the table".

He added that while foreign reporters now had greater access than before in China, "we don't have as much access as we like".

 
 
 

"We'd do a better job if we had more access," he said.

He noted also that foreign media outlets would love to employ Chinese journalists but "that's one thing that we can't do in China which will certainly help our reporting of China".

Mr Yang said that while lack of access to information was one factor, another was that "reporting on China in a more balanced way or a more positive way is probably not the top priority of a lot of media organisations".

He said the technology existed for media outlets to get information from everywhere, including Chinese news or social media.

Mr Lu Ningsi, director of news at Phoenix InfoNews Channel, said that personal beliefs and preferences of journalists played a role in their news coverage.

Mr Chetwynd acknowledged that reporters brought their own views to what they do but that the basis of journalism was to report the facts the best they can.

The BBC World Service's Hong Kong bureau chief, Ms Vivian Wu, also weighed in, saying that the challenge for foreign media outlets was getting people who knew the language and local culture.

Another challenge of reporting in China was the difficulty in getting interviews with senior officials.

The panellists agreed, however, that China was becoming more important and getting more attention the world over.

"China is one of the most interesting and compelling stories for our clients all over the world. There is just no doubt about that, so we don't lack for desire to try to tell the story," said Mr Chetwynd.

He added that media outlets should double down on quality on-the-ground reporting.

"At some point it does come to access and having your team on the ground to tell the real story of what is going on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Debate over Western media's reports on China'. Print Edition | Subscribe