In recent years China has greatly expanded the global voice of its state-run media. The goal is to boost China’s image abroad and to counter the influence of Western media outlets, which some people believe are overly critical of China. In doing so China has looked to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network as a model of how non-Western media can win global prominence and respect. So when Ezzat Shahrour, Al Jazeera Arabic’s Beijing bureau chief, speaks out about Chinese media coverage, his words carry a special weight. In a recent blog post he strongly criticized the way official Chinese outlets are handling coverage of the recent revolutions in the Arab world.
His post, which was written in Chinese, was translated here by the China Media Project at Hong Kong University. Shahrour notes how the state media emphasizes the downsides of the conflict in Libya, but ignores popular support for the rebels:
The vast majority of Arabs accept the air campaign in Libya by coalition forces, even though this is a choice made of necessity only, with the hope that the intervention of the multinational coalition will extend a lifeline to the opposition forces that represent the true will of the Libyan people. But China’s media have misrepresented this. After the bombing began, these Chinese media, who originally paid no attention at all to the Arab revolution, sprang into action, assuming the air of stalwart fighters against hegemonism. They took UN Resolution 1973 out of context, applied a double-standard to the breaking of the ceasefire agreement, kept a tacit silence on the issue of [Ghaddafi's] foreign mercenaries, intentionally misread the reasons for the air campaign. For those Chinese viewers who managed to gather the truth from various other sources, this only brought into sharp relief the line and position being promoted in China’s media — emphasize only the humanitarian disasters caused by Western air bombardments, and reporting sparingly if at all on the violent suppression and massacre of the people by Ghaddafi.
I’ve never met Shahrour, but I’ve seen him before at various news events. He’s an aggressive, chain smoking reporter who speaks enviable Chinese. (His blog notes that he graduated from the Chinese Medical University in the northeastern city of Shenyang). The slant that Chinese media takes on uprisings, whether in Egypt earlier this year or the 2003-05 “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, has been well established. But Shahrour takes the argument further. His post is titled “The Arab People Have 100,000 Questions for Chinese Media,” and it raises the possibility that as Chinese state media expands its global footprint, unbalanced coverage increases the risk that it will upset its new foreign viewers. His post is well worth reading in full. China’s media mandarins should give it a look as well.