This is an issue on so many levels

CNN is running a piece on their web site that maybe the so-called needle stabbings that took place in Urumqi were not real.

Some questions:

  • How did the initial reports get circulated?
  • Is the Chinese government using its state-controlled media to lie about the real situation?

The first question is easy to answer: Word of mouth.

The second is more difficult to answer unless the first one is answered.

One of the real problems with getting news from any place that has a state-run media operation is that no one trusts the media reports. So the local citizens depend more on rumors.

I still recall when SARS broke out. It was almost a matter of faith in southern China that SARS was a botched biological warfare test jointly run by China and the United States. (If you will recall, before SARS was correctly identified, the Chinese government was jailing people who talked about a new type of flu that was killing people. It was only in Hong Kong — with its free media — that the word got out. Thanks to the muzzled media and threats against anyone who talked about SARS in China, the disease had a several month head start on treatment.)

And I won’t even talk about the almost annual stories about run-away robots rampaging throughout China.

So even now that some hard evidence is coming out, how trustworthy is it? My first reaction is that the doctors being quoted don’t exist. Or if they do exist, they are reading statements prepared by the appropriate party committee to calm down the population.

And that kind of attitude only comes from a complete distrust of the local media.

Going back to the first question, I have to wonder who started spreading the story. It sounds like something a local party hack would do to stir up local support. It also has the feel of an urban legend. (Think about all those e-mails we got years ago about needles poisoned with HIV attached to gas pump handles to spread the affliction.) And it sounds like something that could have happened ONCE but with the lack of an unbiased media, rumors trumped facts.

What I don’t understand is why the Western media seem so afraid to look at this issue and others like it in China, Venezuela,  Nicaragua and now Honduras and point out that much of what we hear is either rumor or stories sanctioned by government controlled media?

Yes, there is some independent reporting in these countries. But that type of reporting is being beaten down under the pressure of dictators.

Thank the lords above for groups like Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House. At least they look at the issues and discuss the free press implications.

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Filed under China, Freedom of access

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