Timothy Garton Ash: Lack of News About China Has Nothing To Do with Bias

In the Los Angeles Times, Timothy Garton Ash offers an explanation to those critics who say that foreign news coverage of China is biased and overly negative:

…This slant is not because of “anti-China” policy or prejudice. Hard as it may be for many Chinese to believe — because their own media reflect the policy of their party-state — Western governments have almost nothing to do with it. The cause lies in the West’s commercial news business, which is going through one of those “gales of creative destruction” that Joseph Schumpeter saw to be characteristic of capitalism.

As they compete fiercely for readers and viewers, mainstream Western media tend to stick with stories that are familiar and interesting to them. They report about Tibet not because they are ideological China-bashers but because their consumers are fascinated by and care about Tibet.

Yes, their news stories on China’s domestic politics tend to the sensational and the negative — so do their stories about the domestic politics of their own countries. Those who edit and select these stories are just following the market-oriented rules of their trade: If it bleeds, it leads. Good news is no news. “Many Chinese city-dwellers moderately content with rising standard of living” is not a headline that would sell many papers.

The real problem with in the mainstream Western media is not its negativity; it’s simply that there’s too little of it, given the growing importance of China and the fact that Chinese culture and society is so different from ours.

April 18, 2009, 10:06 PM
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