Perhaps motivated by a flood of critical comments it has been getting from Chinese visitors to its website, the BBC provides an unscientific but nevertheless interesting side-by-side comparison of Olympic torch relay coverage from Western and Chinese outlets.
The results suggest neither side is doing an ideal job. For example, coverage of the San Francisco torch rally from the US press:
There was a tight focus on the protests and the disruption they caused.
The New York Times described the torch’s progress around the city as an “elaborate game of hide-and-seek… as city officials secretly rerouted the planned torch relay, swarmed its runners with blankets of security and then whisked the torch to the airport in a heavily guarded motorcade”.
The San Francisco Chronicle also focused heavily on the change of route. Under the headline: “No torch, no problem – they came to protest”, the paper painted a picture of a colourful array of protesters, all with different axes to grind, both pro and anti-China.
In a strident editorial, the Washington Post reflected on the events, saying: “The Chinese are seeing for themselves how public opinion around the world has been repulsed by their government’s cynical and amoral foreign policy in places such as Sudan and Burma and by its repression of the Tibetan minority.”
Vs. the Chinese press:
Under headlines including “Olympic torch relay concludes in San Francisco without major incidents” and “Chinese ambassador: Olympic torch relay in San Francisco ‘successful'”, state-run news agency Xinhua generally painted a positive picture of the relay.
The protests were mentioned in Xinhua’s main news story, where it reported: “At one point, Tibetan separatists tried to disrupt the torch relay. They tried to grab the torch, but were pushed back by police escorting the torch relay.”
Further down, the Xinhua article states: “Many San Francisco citizens expressed dismay at attempts to link the Olympic Games with politics.”
Another state-run outlet, China Daily, carried articles similar in tone, with headlines including: “San Franciscans denounce disruptions.” It also published picture galleries of angry clashes between pro-China and anti-China demonstrators.
In another self-reflective experiment, Simon Elegant and Austin Ramzy of TIME have translated one of Elegant’s articles on the torch into Chinese and posted it on the magazine’s China blog, producing a fervent bi-lingual debate in the comments section.