Lets say you’re a journalist. You’ve got a story about how the Chinese government recently executed several Tibetans who were arrested in connection with the riots that happened last year. Your lede reads thusly: “Chinese authorities have carried out their first executions of Tibetans in connection with the deadly riots that swept Lhasa last year, according to exile groups.”
You’ve checked Xinhua for a story on it, but they don’t have one. There’s no need to actually speak to anyone in TIbet or China — after all, what would they know about it — and you’ve already called several Free Tibet groups for comment, so it doesn’t look like you favor one Free Tibet group over another (got to keep that article bias-free!). All that’s left to do? Slap a headline on that sucker and ship it off to the presses.
Now, you could title it something like “China executes Tibetan rioters” or “First Tibetan riot suspects executed”, but that makes it like the people who were executed might have done something wrong, and we all know that Tibetans are incapable of committing crimes because they are peaceful Buddhists. You need something sexy. Something that screams “Evil empire murders innocent people,” but slightly — only slightly — subtler.
If you’re a journalist for the Guardian (not sure we can blame Jonathan Watts for this as he may well not have written the headline), you would apparently go with this: China executes Tibetan protesters. Period.
Honestly, it’s not even necessary to explain why that headline is irresponsible and, frankly, appalling, so we won’t bother. Nor is it productive to speculate on the particular motives of the headline writer. The headline is grossly misleading, and serves no one. Shame on whoever wrote it, and shame on the Guardian for seeing fit to print it.
UPDATE: For some perspective, the New York Times wrote a similar story. The headline is: Group Says China Has Executed 4 for Roles in Tibet Riots.