By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Next time you want to curse out the media, remember this

shutterstock ID:  640599397 By kb-photodesign

There are few I know in government who do not get mad at the media at least occasionally. Most in government have personally been victims of stories where the media seems out to get their agencies or the government as a whole. We see factual inaccuracies or relevant facts left out. The motives of government officials are questioned or outright trashed. Reporters, it seems, like to assume the worst.

I have had these feelings myself, sometimes about stories I have been involved in, though more often just as a citizen upset with unfair coverage. (That FCW generally doesn’t do this is one reason it is respected by people in government.)

This past week, however, I have been reading about the arrests of the editor-in-chief and four other journalists at the popular pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, as China puts the screws on freedom in that city. The owner of the paper, Jimmy Lai, has already been convicted and is sitting in jail. As someone very interested in and distressed by the crushing of freedom in Hong Kong, I have been vigorously posting on my social media to express my outrage at what’s happening.

But at some point during my outrage I suddenly realized that this somewhat contradicted my anger at media imbalance and unfairness.

I now glance briefly online every morning at China Daily, the government’s English-language newspaper. I react, usually with amusement, at the constant stream of stories about how wonderful the Communist Party is and how bad the U.S. is. This is what a lack of press freedom looks like.

I wrote an email to a journalist friend who used to report from China about examples of important stories the media in China never covered. He sent me a number of examples of major stories that did not get discussed in Chinese media when they occurred -- HIV/AIDS; the adulteration of infant formula with a poisonous chemical that gave formula the appearance of higher protein content in order to pass quality control testing; tainted vaccinations that got people sick; SARS; and the continued use of asbestos. The Chinese media has not mentioned suggestions that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 might have leaked from a research laboratory. Many smaller everyday stories, such as protest demonstrations or letters by intellectuals criticizing the government, are blacked out as well.

I raise this to remind ourselves of something that at some level we already know. For all it can annoy us, press freedom is essential to the functioning of our society. We should try to set the record straight when journalists get it wrong, but let’s never forget it is great that they are around.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 21, 2021 at 12:13 PM


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