The May 16,2011, issue of the "Global Times" of China, which is controlled by the Communist Party of China, has carried an utterly delightful article on the state of journalism in China. Many of the telling observations in the article apply with equal validity to the state of journalism in India. I am annexing below the text of the article. (18-5-11)
Journalism trapped in web of special interests
Source: Global Times
May 16 2011]
By Li Xiguang
Like me, many people in China decided to become journalists because they had neither the brains for math and logic nor the talent to be doctors and engineers.
The moment for me to decide becoming a journalist came in the summer of 1982 when I had just graduated from university and was assigned to work with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
One day, Professor Qian Sanqiang, the father of the Chinese atomic bomb, asked me to go to the Indian embassy, acting as an interpreter at the dinner. During the dinner, the Indian ambassador stood up and gave a speech. He said, "Standing in front of Qian Sanqiang, I feel so humble. He knows everything about nothing but I know nothing about everything."
I was totally confused and did not know how to translate the sentence into Chinese.
Later, a particle physicist explained to me that "nothing" here referred to dark matter, a substance inferred to exist from gravitational effects on background radiation. Dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the matter in the universe, while ordinary matter makes up only 20 percent.
At that moment, it was not just the Indian ambassador who felt humble in front of science, but me, a formerly self-conceited young man.
My fiasco in translating the word "nothing" was a decisive moment for me to leave the scientific community and enter the unscientific world of journalism.
Journalism in China is certainly unscientific. Perhaps it's even pseudo-scientific. Reporters are like the blind men groping at the elephant, only seeing part of the picture.
Since today's Chinese society is divided into different interest groups fighting for political power, the media have become a propaganda weapon serving different political and economic camps. These mouthpieces rely upon the "worthy sources" from their political camps for reporting. For example, the media love victim stories. But in most victim stories, the victim should be in "our camp." The victim should not be in "our enemy's camp."
Most media pay little attention to events that aren't deemed newsworthy, however important or truthful. Only stories that capturereaders and sell the newspapers are seen as worthy. War is a story, and peace isn't.
Many Chinese journalists act like judge of truth. Reporting the truth has always been a high-sounding motto for both journalists and journalism educators.
But who gives the media the right to be the arbitrator? Do journalists have the scientific ability to judge the truth or report a truthful story?
In news coverage of big events in China today, reporters are working under the pressure from their audience, advertisers, investors and their political bosses. They can't escape these forms of control.
Many Chinese media outlets pretend to be neutral. But their so-called objective reporting is pseudo-balance and pseudo-neutrality.
If you watch some Chinese TV talk shows, you see those star TV anchors invite their imagined enemy into their talk shows and set him or her up to be ridiculed or shouted at by their audience to achieve dramatic effect.
Good journalism means giving equal broadcast time and newspaper space to reports from the other camp so that your audience will get to know how their imagined enemies are talking and thinking.
But in Chinese journalism practice, no one could survive by being neutral. Chinese editors know it too well that it is a suicide to be objective or neutral in reporting because all media, whether CCTV, Phoenix TV or Southern Weekend, must meet the needs of their audiences and their financial and political supporters with their anticipated news and views.
In an informed society, people have the right to know who is behind the media in creating and spreading rumors and to whose benefit public anger being manipulated. But in China today, the media is run like the mafia, and one never knows who is behind it. There is no media transparency in China.
Many journalists would argue that the goal of a free press is reporting truth. But where is the truth in journalism? Perhaps it only exists in theoretical physics.
The author is a professor of journalism at Tsinghua University Center for International Communication