Priorities FAIL

Rachel over at Bendi Laowai puts it nicer than I am going to. Simply put: people — and by people, I mean “the media” — are writing more about China’s blocking Google for an hour than they are about arrests of important folks, mass incidents, etc. Bloggers aren’t off the hook for this either, although we’re not calling anyone out here in particular. Day in and day out I try to keep this blog professional(ish), but there are times when it just has to be said: what the fuck?

I wonder if we aren’t, in some ways, limited by this vast resource called the internet (or perhaps the interwebs). The blogging process, when you think about it, is pretty damn incestuous. This blog is as guilty of that as any other. We translate other blogs, we link to other blogs, and we rarely go outside. When Google goes down, we know. When Liu Xiaobo gets arrested, well…we’ll hear about it sooner or later on a blog, I suppose.

I understand these things need to get reported. I understand how the system works, it’s unavoidable, etc. etc. Still, I can’t shake the idea that our priorities are off when significant mass protests get no attention because a pop singer died. I guess Tu Yuangao should have picked a more timely moment to die mysteriously.

Michael Jackson’s death is not a tragedy. Neither is the temporary blocking of Google. But could you say the same thing of Tu Yuangao’s death? Of Liu Xiaobo’s arrest?

0 thoughts on “Priorities FAIL”

  1. Wow, thanks for the link C, but it’s Rachel, not Rebecca πŸ™‚

    I think my point is more specific to coverage of China, or even more specific – coverage of civik disobedient/government control in China.
    Of course, Jacko’s death gets more coverage than everything that happens in China, Iran and numerous other countries. It’s rediculous, but it’s the nature of the business.
    It was still a bit odd to me that the Google thing was blown so far out of prooprtion, especially when the exact same thing (google down for an hour or so) happened before, and wasn’t even mentioned anywhere. Still more odd – that the Shishou incident, as far as I can recall, one of the biggest in recent years, got so little international media attention. It was a tragedy, as you said, but also a good news story – police got driven out of the scene several times before finally regaining control over the situation.

    Maybe it partly because the events Iran dominated the news last week, but I believe we have somewhat of a fixation on China’s internet scene. Bloggers and traditional media alike tend to focus on China’s young urbanites, pretty much overlooking other sectors.


  2. Ah… the mighty liberal moaning about not having complete control of the media.

    The priority was all right when girls burned to death in Lhasa was non-news but the “brutal suppression” no-one could substantiate was the default headline.


  3. It’s true with Deng Yujiao’s case too. There was little coverage of the incident in the western media until she was freed. The Economist had one article and that’s it as far as I can remember, which makes it even weirder because the duomaomao incident was widely reported.


  4. @oiasunset: What the hell are you talking about? First of all, this blog didn’t even exist when that happened, but if you actually knew me, you’d know I was actually upset about that at the time, too. So, please take your preconceived notions elsewhere.


  5. “and we rarely go outside”

    you said it right there…..too much time on the web can lead to insanity, blindness and hairy palms…..i.e. yes, I’m equating a lot of blogging and with masturbation and virtual circle jerking…..guess what we can live without google for a day


  6. @C. Custer,

    Calm down. I was talking in the same line of yours – the western media is all about money and they have neither intelligence or memory, in short their collective brain is as big as a peanut.

    I’ve learned that the so called “unbiased” media sources in particular are not to be trusted. That’s why I alway read or watch the biased ones – Foxnews, Huffington Post and Xinhua, because at least I know where they stand.


  7. @ Custer,

    I think the critical thing here is not just that websites create echo chambers, but that journalists and bloggers write from their own lives. Which is understandable; we all start from that point. But it distorts the news. Google being shut for an hour impacts expats more than a strike in Dongguan. So, you have Jeremy over at Danwei saying basically that he’s loath to criticize China about human rights like all those Western bleeding hearts do… but this Google thing is just too much! Now he’s angry! Now he won’t take it anymore!

    More broadly, maybe the foreign media’s focus—for better or worse—on censorship and violations of “civil and political” rights (which includes the whole Green Dam controversy) rather than on other forms of abuse reflects reporters’ day-to-day frustrations with being bugged and followed and hindered by authorities. If they were economically exploited, then perhaps they would focus more on “economic, social and cultural” rights!

    @ oiasunset,

    I hope I don’t set us off on a long argument, but I think your example of the burned shopkeepers highlights something else, besides the bias on the part of mainstream journalists that you suggest.

    Western journalists tend to overlook the damage of protesters rioters generally and sympathize with them over the police and innocent bystanders—not just in Lhasa, but in Paris during the suburban, minority riots there, in Tehran more recently, in London during the G20, in Cincinnati during the race riots a couple years ago, in Weng’an, in Shishou (to the extent it was reported), and so on and so on.

    Actually, I tend to have similar sympathies to Western journalists in this regard. And, importantly, so do Chinese netizens… EXCEPT in the case of the Lhasa uprising, when they suddenly put all their attention into the deaths of a few Han and Hui people at the hands of Tibetans and demanded that the world focus on those people rather than anything that happened in the days and months that preceded and came after the riots. It seems like there were double-standards all around.

    Anyway… I hope I haven’t started an angry Tibet thread…


  8. Nah, no “angry Tibet thread”. Dalai Lama is a good man – he’s just astonishingly naive in politics. Fortunately he is currently facing a CCP that still holds up the Soviet idea of “ethnicity autonomy”.

    Soon or later the CCP is going to realise that the democratic American “melting pot” idea is the way to go and the solution is in total assimilation.

    We really have a long way to go before we can be like Americans, but no worry – we are heading toward that direction.


  9. Hmm. Not sure whether the American model of assimilation is best… but we’ll see.

    On your previous point in Comment #7, I agree that it might be best to have media outlets who are open about their biases. This is an area where the U.S. differs from Europe. To take the example of Sweden, it is clear that Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter, the two big papers, are on different ends of the ideological spectrum from each other (albeit all to the left of the NY Times or Washington Post). You automatically absorb their take on things with a grain of salt, which is healthy.

    The important thing is that amid all the bickering and opinion-izing basic facts are basically adhered to. You don’t always see that with Xinhua or the Hong Kong papers of different stripes—or rags like the New York Post. Being open about biases is good. But there still has to be accountability in reporting.


  10. If you take the attention focused on the blocking of google as focus on the gov’s method/intention, its criticism by the “media” can be taken as signifying more than what it may seem on the surface.

    I think blocking google (for whatever reason) is another facet or manifestation of the Party’s focus on control (info, narrative). So, it has a close relationsihp with what the gov may be doing to its dissidents (i mean, is lu xiaobo really a risk to the Party? come on!).

    And its an easier target to criticise blocking google than discussing arrests of dissidents, etc anyway.


  11. Yeah, maybe. I mean, obviously Google and Green Dam and that sort of thing stand in for a bigger question of control, but they are also the only manifestation of that control that many foreigners in China have to deal with—shouldn’t foreigners reach out and engage in the whole range of abuses that are out there more?

    I actually don’t think the media has downplayed Liu Xiaobo’s arrest that much, though bloggers perhaps have. A better comparison might be between, say, blocking Google and other, less high profile forms of government / corporate abuse, like the mismanagement of hospitals in China or the humiliating searches that workers must go through when they enter and leave their factory workplaces or the expansion of commercial developments onto farm land, etc.

    These other issues hurt people with whom reporters / bloggers are largely unlikely to interact and involve more complex tangles of interests, while testing some common assumptions (such as the assumption that businesses are a force for political openness in China).


  12. Old Tales Retold,
    Agree with what you say.
    I just mentioned Lu Xiaobo because he was the only dissident I could remember. ha ha.

    I’ll make a general observation. I typically read US and UK papers and my impression is that they tend to like heroes (esp. US), esp. visible ones.

    Finding unsung heroes (I’m always sceptical of people being called heroes but…), finding stories with quiet crowd of victims, may not fit the beautiful narrative many papers like to give us.

    anyway, perhaps it has to do with cost cuts as many mainstream papers are struggling financially. And it costs money not only to maintain a bureau but also to chase stories. To really do a country of tihs size any justice, you’d probably need hundreds of reporters. I wonder how many these US/UK (plus other western) papers they actually have?

    i don’t think travelling to parts of countries once a month from Beijing/Shanghai will really build the right connections to fully be able to report complex local issues.

    having said that, it’s also about reader interests. If there are hundred cases of corruption/tragedy in China, probably a reader in the US or anywhere else will want to read about a few representative ones, not the whole batch.

    sorry, a bit all over the place.


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