Domestic furore over the Western media’s reporting of the Tibet risings and the Olympic Torch relay was as inevitable as night following day, but the nature of the backlash wasn’t as simple as Chinese patriots toeing the party line.
There was – of course – the usual patter of soft patriotism: MSN has been running a campaign urging users to add ‘love China’ symbols to their usernames – an estimated seven million Chinese MSN users have signed up so far.
And hard patriotism at the involved and overtly politicised level when Anti-CNN.com – a site aiming to ‘expose the lies and distortions in the Western media’ – was set up after CNN commentator Jack Cafferty called the Chinese government ‘goons and thugs’.
There’s an implicit irony – hypocrisy even – of calling Western media biased, it rather suggests there’s little hope of any introspective eyes turning on the output of the domestic media and realising its failings.
But things are rarely as simple as a polarised set of black and white opinions.
If you take the reaction to a recent essay by Chang Ping, deputy editor-in-chief of the Southern Metropolis Daily, as any kind of benchmark then calls to discover the middle ground and advocate the use of the internet to hunt for the truth on all media may be an even more radical idea than Chinese popular public opinion accepting what’s written by the Western press.
Chang wrote: “If netizens genuinely care about news values, they should not only be exposing the fake reports by the Western media, but also challenging the control by the Chinese government over news sources and the Chinese media.”
This comment on Anti-CNN.com, not unlike Chang’s suggestion, is also simply calling for better reporting and scrutiny of both sides.
Chang’s comments led him to being widely labelled a ‘Chinese traitor’ and a ‘running dog’.
The worry is that his suggestion for simple scrutiny will go unheard amongst the clamour to present a united front against perceived foreign oppression. If it does – if the middling voices are not heard – the chances of Chinese looking beyond state-controlled media for news on anything but the most local or trivial of issues seems remarkably slim.