Violent events in China tend to spark controversy. When details are vague — and they almost always are, at least at first — it’s up to individual news teams to make decisions about how their coverage is going to portray the events. The recent riots in Urumqi are no exception; thus far a couple of things stand out.
Western Media Response, or, Why China Hates CNN
All praise due to frequent ChinaGeeks commenter wooddoo for noticing the rather conspicuous absence of the word “riot” in CNN’s early coverage of the events. Unfortunately, they’ve since updated the story and Google cache seems to have disappeared; however, even their current story is pretty hesitant, calling the upheaval “protests”, the rioters “protesters” and mentioning a “police lockdown” several paragraphs before mentioning that the “protesters” “attacked passersby, burned public buses and blocked traffic” (although, of course, they’re quick to mention that that report comes from state-run media).
It’s getting increasingly difficult to defend CNN when it comes to their coverage of China. Last year, their coverage of the Lhasa riots was so terrible it actually started a movement in China that has given birth to an entire internet community. Based on this most recently updated story, they’re headed in the right direction, but the tone is still off, and if we can ever find a cached version of their earliest stories, the bias would be even more obvious.
Chinese Media Focused on the West?
Also of interest (as noted in the third update of our post about the riots), Xinhua (China’s official state media service) has been a bit strange. If their website is to be trusted, they are updating their English language story about the riots much more quickly than they are updating the Chinese one, which still reads 140 deaths (as of this posting, the official total as reported by a myriad of other sources including Xinhua’s English wire is 156).
Perhaps the services are just run separately and the English language staff are more competent (this seems unlikely). Barring that, this could indicate a couple things.
First, it may indicate that the Chinese government is seeking primarily to control the international response to this story, and thus, Xinhua has been focusing on the English report, which is clearly where most of the Western news sources are currently getting their information. If this is the case, it would indicate a bit of a paradigm shift in their media response, which has previously been aimed primarily at domestic audiences.
However, these riots may be a special case. Given the ethnic issues evident in July 5th’s events, especially the apparent violence against innocent Han bystanders, the government may feel that the domestic audience is already well enough on the government’s side, and thus guiding public perception of the events through the media isn’t a huge priority, whereas the international media — some of whom are, as previously discussed, prone to “misunderstandings” and “accidental” photo cropping — presents a bigger challenge. Is this a sign that China is more concerned with its international standing?
The other reason for the discrepancy could be that they’re trying to slow the flow of new information coming into the domestic news market for fear the issue could explode on the internet.
Anyway, it’s all speculation at this point, so dive right in? What, exactly, do you think is going on here, if anything?