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Happy 1st Birthday to China's Anti-CNN Web Site
Chinese netizen Web site continues to debate media distortion
Jay Hauben (jhauben)     Print Article 
Published 2009-03-18 11:49 (KST)   
On March 14, 2008, Tibetan demonstrators in Lhasa the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China turned violent. A Canadian tourist and the one or two foreign journalists who witnessed the situation put photos, videos and descriptions documenting the violence of the rioters against citizens and property(1) online even before the Chinese media started to report it. The Chinese media framed the story as violence against Han and Muslim Chinese fomented by the Tibetan government in exile. Much of the mainstream international media like BBC, VOA, and CNN framed the violence as the result of discriminatory Chinese rule and Chinese police brutality.

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Wide anger was expressed by many Chinese aboard when they discovered that some of the media in the US, Germany, and the UK, were using photos and videos from clashes between police and pro-Tibetan independence protesters in Nepal and India to support that media's claim of violence by Chinese police. A digital slide show that contained a narrated presentation of 11 mislabeled photos inappropriate for the articles with which they appeared(2) spread widely in cyberspace in and outside China.

Within a few days of the appearance of the inaccurate reports, Rau Jin a recent university graduate launched the Anti-CNN Web site http://www.anti-cnn.com. He explained that after netizen anger and discussion he wanted to "speak out our thoughts and let the westerners learn about the truth."(3) The top page of Anti-CNN featured articles, videos and photos documenting some of the alleged distortions in the coverage of the Tibet events. The Web site also had forum sections first in Chinese then also in English http://www.anti-cnn.com/forum/en/. The organizers set as the goal of Anti-CNN to overcome media bias in the West by fostering communication between Chinese netizens and netizens outside of China so that the people of the world and of China could have accurate knowledge about each other. They wrote on their Web site, "We are not against the western media, but against the lies and fabricated stories in the media." Anti-CNN was chosen as the site name, one of the organizers said, "because CNN is the media superpower. It can do great damage so it must be watched and challenged when it is wrong."(4) But the site was not limited to countering errors in the reporting of CNN. It invited submissions that documented bias or countered misrepresentations of China in the global media.

Rau received hundreds of offers of help finding examples of media distortions. He gathered a team of 40 volunteers to monitor the submissions for factualness and to limit emotional threads. Posts that were name-calling or attacks on individuals or groups were to be deleted. Emotional posts were not to be allowed follow-up comments. Forum discussions were started on "Western Media Bias," "The Facts of Tibet" and "Modern China." In the first five days the site attracted 200,000 visits many from outside of China. Over time serious threads contained debates between Han Chinese and both Westerners and Tibetan and Uyghur Chinese trying to show each other who they were and where they differ or where they agree.

On Anti-CNN in answer to the exposure of the Western media practice, many visitors from outside China posted their criticism of Chinese government media censorship. In their responses to such criticism, some Chinese acknowledged such censorship but argued it was easy to circumnavigate, that all societies have their systems of bias or censorship and that netizens everywhere must dare to think for themselves and get information from many sources. One netizen with the alias kylin wrote, "I can say free media works the same way as less-free media. So what's most important? The people I'd say---. . . If people dare to doubt, dare to think own (sic) their own, do not take whatever comes to them, then we'll have a clear mind, not easily be fooled. I can say, if such people exist, then should be Chinese.... the least likely to be brainwashed, when have suffered from all those incidents, cultural revolution, plus a whole long history with all kinds of tricks."(5)

Some analysis of Anti-CNN in the Western media criticized it as a form of nationalism(6) or of being somehow connected with the Chinese government. The Chinese government and Anti-CNN organizers deny any connection with each other and no verifiable evidence of such a connection has been produced. There are often expressions of nationalist emotions in Chinese cyberspace, for example calls for boycotting Japanese and French products. After the riot in Lhasa and the Chinese government and media blamed the Dalai Lama and "splitists" there was an upsurge of nationalist defense of China including on Anti-CNN. The moderators on Anti-CNN and netizens in general however are opponents of nationalism arguing that it is a form of emotionalism and needs to be countered by rational discourse and the presentation of facts and an airing of all opinions. The moderators often answered Chinese nationalists with admonitions to "calm down and present facts." While nationalist sentiment and love of country and anger appears often on the Anti-CNN forums, the opportunity for a dialogue across national and ethnic barriers is an expression of the internationalism characteristic of netizens.

Chinese citizens in general know that the mainstream Chinese media have a long history as a controlled and propaganda press. Since the 1990s there has been a commercialization of that media and more openness but still much of the national media has strong remnants from its past. On the other hand the mainstream international media had been widely assumed in China as a more reliable source of information about some events such as SARS and for alternative viewpoints. The widespread distribution by netizens like Mr. Rau of exposure of distortions and bias in major examples of the international mainstream media called into question for many Chinese people their positive expectation about that media. It also attracted the attention of others who questioned whether the so called Western mainstream media is any less a propaganda or political media than the Chinese mainstream media. After the framing of the war in the country of Georgia in August 2008 as the fault of Russia, a Russian netizen started a thread on Anti-CNN suggesting a Russian-Chinese alliance. He wrote, "Russian problems with the Western media are identical to Chinese problems. . . . What we need to do so that their publications about countries like China and Russia will be written in a fair tone rather than being politically motivated? I would be most happy to hear your opinion on these matters."(7)

One year later the anti-CNN Web site has become a significant news portal. It still continues the original separate forum sections in Chinese and English. And as you would expect but especially on this one year anniversary, the question of Tibet is still being debated (as you can see at http://www.anti-cnn.com/forum/en/thread-3281-1-1.html) as is the question of Western media double standards (as you can see at http://www.anti-cnn.com/forum/en/thread-3078-1-1.html concerning reporting about Israel and Gaza). And the Western Media still distorts what happens in China (as you can see at http://www.anti-cnn.com/forum/en/viewthread.php?tid=3271).

I wish Anti-CNN a happy first birthday and many more years of international netizen debate.


Notes:

1.See for example the blog entry by Kadfly March 15, 2008 http://kadfly.blogspot.com/2008/03/lhasa-burning.html (access restricted), the report on March 15 by Al Jezeera http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfnBVKrzX6Y and the video posted on YouTube by cali2882 on March 15, 2008
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZLzKBvvGMg
2. Riot in Tibet: True face of western media posted by dionysos615 on YouTube on March 19, 2008
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSQnK5FcKas&feature=related
3. Quoted in China Daily, April 2, 2008, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-04/02/content_6587120_2.htm
4. Interview with Anti-CNN webmaster Qi Hangting, April 19, 2008, translated from Chinese. See Ronda Hauben, "Netizens Defy Western Media Fictions of China" http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=382523&rel_no=1
5. http://www.anti-cnn.com/forum/en/thread-2316-1-1.html
6. See e.g., "Web Site Rips West's Reports on China-Tibet Conflict", by Anthony Kuhn at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89831099
7.http://www.anti-cnn.com/forum/en/thread-2413-1-1.html
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jay Hauben

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