Domestic Dirt

There are few things more disturbing than the taking over of politics by uninformed emotion. One thing that actually is more disturbing is when media are using and inciting such take-over for their own cheap profit. I had hardly caught my breath again after Spiegel Online’s last, mildly put: questionable spin of the ongoing Tibet crisis, when my eyes fell on this story today:

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(The headline says „People like that don’t belong on our streets“ (as a quotation), and the teaser and the article insinuate that the blue-clad chinese security guards accompanying the torch relay – who, as far as I know, haven’t committed any sin – are some „ominous“ elite soldiers „moving like robots“ and „allegedly trained to kill when necessary“.)

This in my eyes not only borders on, it is a piece of shitty propaganda journalism. In a badly understood, emotionally charged situation like the pre-Olympic Tibet campaign, this is an example of irresponsible reporting if there ever was one. And its effects go far beyond the domestic readership. I guess the staff at Spiegel Online are not aware of the fact that German media are closely watched by Chinese netizens in online forums, and that it is not only the dreaded state and party leaders that might feel attacked and offended by such biased reporting and the mindset expressed in it, but also a broad majority of ordinary Chinese who happen to care a lot for the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games (and its torch relay), for many reasons, not least because they are seeing the event as a symbol of their nation’s rise out of poverty, a symbol of openness and hope.

And may I add that, after the notorious „Yellow Spies“ title story, Der Spiegel gets (and deserves) special attention in China, and not exactly for its investigative depth?

Well, I guess, not much of this will be heard at a time when moral righteousness comes so cheap, and we all know so much about China and Tibet and what is right and what is wrong. So let me just humbly remind us all of the rules of professionalism, especially of a maxim of the late doyen of german journalism, Hanns Joachim Friedrichs, which I slightly alter for my purpose and reduce it to the low standards we are here dealing with: A journalist shouldn’t back a cause, even if his gut feeling tells him it’s a good one.

It is the job of good journalism to contribute to the explanation and understanding of a complicated situation, not to exploit it for sensationalism and propaganda.

(Fairness demands to add that in the Spiegel Forum discussion there are some other readers‘ voices as critical with this story as me. Would that the Spon staff start to listen to them!)

Update 09.04.08, 8 pm: Well, obviously SpOn hasn’t even done too much genuine research on this matter (surprise!), but is just surfing the wake of mainstream British media, even in the use of its pejorative vocabulary. See this wonderful analysis of the current scaremongering and its historical background by Brendan O’Neill, editor of the leftist british online magazine Spiked. (Thanks to Jing in the Comments for the reference!)

13 Kommentare

  1. „I guess the staff at Spiegel Online are not aware of the fact that German media are closely watched by Chinese netizens in online forums,“

    or maybe they are aware and simply don’t care. Chinese „netizens“ may feel empowered to some extent within China, but the rest of the world doesn’t really care, just as China doesn’t care that someone in Virginia is offended when China blacks out CNN broadcasts of the torch relay.

  2. Some of the Spiegel reporting sounds like the worst kind of foreigner baiting. but on this I have to agree with them. They are right to conclude that those „smurfs“ had no place on the streets of Germany, nor for Paris, London or Istanbul. Their presence is wrong for so many reasons. Firstly for sovereignity. I’m sure China would refuse to allow a pumped-up gang of American military-style security guards form an inner guard around an Olympic Torch run through Beijing. Secondly, the smurfs acted in a very hostile manner to local police and even to the runners – „thugs“ was the word used by British Olympic chief Lord Coe. And finally the Chinese guard negates the supposed Olympic spirit of the torch run. If they wanted a torch escort why not send a mixed team of real athletes and genuine volunteers with the emphasis on Olympic spirit insteead of Chinese patriotism. Thank goodness our Australian PM has refused to have them accompny the torch in Canberra.

  3. @mike: I don’t quite get your point. Do you want to say that because China uses censorship and doesn’t give a shit about outside opinion, Spon has got a right to do the same? And how exactly is a blackened CNN TV screen in Beijing and some person in Virginia related to our topic?

    @another mick: Of course it could be a matter of dispute whether or under which conditions it is prudent to allow foreign security forces into your country. But if it is not okay in this case, it’s the local government which is to blame.

    If on the other hand you instead focus on the security guards and portrait them as robots and brutes, even though they were just trying to secure the torch relay procedure in an extremely hostile environment (would you really have sent volunteers into such a situation?), and while actually all the really tough response to the protesters‘ actions has been done by local european police force and not by them, your journalistic intention might quite legitimately be questioned.

    (BTW, are European policemen not trained to kill „if necessary“? I wouldn’t feel particularly secure were they not. Does Spon mention this of the British and French policemen? Why not?)

    So, it’s mostly the focus and style of the report and it’s context of smear journalism (like just now again, when the word „perfidious“ makes it into an editorial teaser about China) that is the target of my criticism.

    Believe me, I have no sympathy for police state methods (or censorship, for that matter). But the fact that China still has a serious human rights problem in many areas is no excuse for bad and biased journalism.

  4. I don’t think it’s biased reporting to report the actual words of Olympic torch runners like Konnie Huq and Olympic chief Seb Coe. They are not being taken out of context, they are reporting very real concerns by pro-Olympic figures, not anti-Olympic demonstrators. Such a group might be excused if they were guarding a head of state from a potential attacker – but a torch! They have no place. It is overkill, and also very bad for China’s image and reputation. And now there are reports that these guards are taking lots of pictures of demonstrators. You can imagine how these surveillance pictures will be used – same tactics as the Metropolitan Police etc, except used against dissidents families, protestors etc. No, this praetorian guard for a newly concocted Torch Run have no place on foreign soil.

  5. Not biased reporting? Are you out of your blarmey effing mind?

    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/4963/

    From the tenor of the reporting coming from the bleating press, it sounds like the men in blue are beating protestors to death on the streets. All they are, is a foreign police security detail, which is actually routine even for sports events.

    The entire issue is just retarded. China could be handing out candies to cute little babies and the headlines would read „Inscrutible Chicoms give candy to babies. Insidious plot to give children gum disease, cavities, gingivitis says activists!“

  6. But the fact that China still has a serious human rights problem in many areas is no excuse for bad and biased journalism.

    Sure. But it is a good explanation of bad and biased journalism.

  7. @Amban: Well, that’s pretty trivial, isn’t it? Interesting are the cases where you can’t resort to that type of explanation.

    Look, I care a lot for China, I love the country, its people and their culture, and I wish the Chinese all the best on their way to an open society. But I’m not a big fan of us westerners patronizing them from some kind of know-it-all attitude, especially when we’ve got problems even to discern the family and given names of the Chinese that we talk and write about.

    Here, in my blog posting above, I’m more concerned with the state of our domestic media. We have the privilege to live in a democracy with a free press. It’s not only a privilege, it’s also a competitive advantage. We should make responsible use of that.

  8. On this one, I don’t get the point, Mr. Lorenz-Meyer. No doubt, the Spiegel, and particularly Spiegel Online is inflammatory sometimes. No doubt, emotions are high on this matter and the SpOn may actually push an Agenda. But in the cited article it raises a valid point: What does it say about our western democracies, if we accept any representatives of an obvious dictatorship as security officers on our turf? You may critizise the language (thugs etc) and the insinnuations of violence (which, at least in mild form, is documented). But the point remains: We, as open and democratic societies, must not accept representatives from totalitarian regimes as security officers, regardless what they do. People like that don’t belong on our streets, indeed.

  9. I’m not sure if a lot has changed at SpOn since we were there Lorenz, or we were just too blind to see it. What I am not too blind to see is how western media are becoming ever-more biased about China and anyone else that wont do a bit of business with them. I too love China and it’s culture. I have NEVER met a nasty Chinese person. That’s not to say there aren’t unfriendly Chinese people but I’ve never met one. The more I look into other cultures (Japanese, Chinese, Indian etc) and meet the peoples, the more I begin to realise how much I dislike western culture and egocentric behaviour. The more rubbish I read in our news, the more I want to uproot…again, but further afield this time….Mars or something similar

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