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Xinjiang Riots Through the Lens of Western Media

Sing Tao Daily, Editorial, Posted: Jul 14, 2009

The Xinjiang riots of July 5 remind us of last years Tibetan uprisings before the Beijing Olympics. Surprisingly, after the Lhasa riots, local residents were not the only ones hurt; so was the public trust of the Western media The biased news reports from Western media angered many Chinese around the world, causing them to protest in the streets, while others created Web sites to counter misreporting by the Western media.

Almost a year since the Tibetan uprisings, many see much similarities with the Xinjiang riots. How did Western media cover and comment on this incident? Concluding from a week-long observation, the early coverage was cautious and their approach was cleverer. However, their attitude remains unchanged. When they found a point to attack, they reverted into their original attitudes.

Public trust has been the soul of media. Western media ruined their public image after the Lhasa incident. As a result, on the initial days of the Xinjiang riots, they have balanced their coverage with a better selection of reported facts. For example, CNN covered the riots using documentary style reporting. It did not jump to conclude that Government Crackdown on Democratic Protest with Force like last year, but rather reported from the view of witnesses describing how public property and pedestrians were attacked, and how the military police gradually increased social control. Wordings in the reports were considered non-emotionally driven and the attacks made by the World Uyghur Congress on the Chinese government were reported towards the end.

In the following days, though coverage on the World Uyghur Congress had increased, comments of Chinese officials were also included to provide a less biased report. On Wednesday, CNN even released a observation from one of their journalist mentioning how Chinese police stopped Western reporters from covering, putting them on to police cars, and acknowledged such actions as necessary to protect the safety of the reporters.

The Associated Press (AP) also attempted to balance their coverage on the Han Chinese and the Uighurs, but overall reports sympathized the Uighurs. For example, on Tuesday, when a large group of Han Chinese appeared on the streets with weapons, AP reported largely on the Uighurs responses, portraying Uighurs as the victims, despite mentioning the behavior of the Han Chinese was a backlash to Uighurs attacks on Sunday.

Although the overall reports of the issue were more or less balanced, Western media reported many subjective editorial pieces afterwards, notorious in being traditionally subjective with less responsibility in reporting the truth. These editorials demonized China and rationalized violence along with several American politicians.

In general, western media captured the Uighurs as victims, especially in reports of AFP, BBC and the Voice of America (VOA). They underreported the severity of the riots and the attacks on innocent people, but exaggerated that Uighurs were protesting because they have been treated unequally by the Chinese government and the Han Chinese for an extended period. They echoed House Speaker Nancy Pelosis on condemning the Chinese government to rationalize the violence. Therefore, these news outlets exaggerated on the Han Chinese taking weapons to the streets in search for targets, but paid no interest on the deaths of the hundred murdered citizens (many of them were Han Chinese from unofficial accounts). The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom had a headline reporting, Han in Urumqi Chased and Attacked Muslim Uighurs in Streets. The Christian Science Monitor interviewed a few so-called China experts, claiming the riots as a result of Chinese high-pressured control on Xinjiang.

Apart from journalistic reports, commentary and news analysis hold a greater influence in mainstream media. Since their nature is opinion based, they are not expected to be as strict and fair as news reports. They can express their viewpoints freely. Therefore, Western comments judged the Chinese government in the same way. The Huffington Post, an increasingly influential online newspaper, published a long article on the next day of the riots, revealing how minorities were discriminated against and strictly controlled by the Chinese government. The Wall Street Journal shared some of the same view points. The best example was publishing Rebiya Kadeers comments, saying that the Chinese government slaughtered the Uighurs.

However, the East Turkestan Independence Movement compared to Americas top enemy the Al Qaeda, with a very different image from the Dalai Lama. It is expected that sympathy towards East Turkestan Independence Movement would not be obvious. In conclusion, Western medias negative attitude toward China never changed.

Western media had once held an extraordinary role within Asian society. However, Western media must rethink their methods of reporting because they did not consider to report the special ethnic and economic policies beneficial to the development of ethnic minorities in China.

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