Last week on a Shandong Airlines flight, I overheard someone in the seat behind me say something to his fellow traveler along the lines of the following, in reference to a front page headline in the China Daily (I think): “‘Chinese people’s feelings hurt by foreign media.’ What kind of mature country has a headline like that?”
The two of them then launched into a fifteen minute discussion excoriating China’s English language media. I was reminded of that conversation today while reading a post on James Fallows’ blog, The bright side #4: Why I’ve missed the (English-language) Chinese press. In his post, Fallows rightfully makes light of the May 1 China Daily’s lead headline, which reads “Happiness abounds as country cheers” and includes a picture of Tibetan university students rejoicing over the Olympics. Fallows’ tongue in cheek take on this story:
There are serious aspects to the enormous gap between Chinese and international coverage of the Olympics, Tibet, etc. — but for another time. For now it’s great to see these publications in top form.
All true. China’s press is oftentimes laughable. But — and please hear me out here — it is not THAT bad.
I say it is not that bad because mixed in with the sort of things discussed above, there is actually some pretty decent stuff to be found in newspapers like the China Daily and the Shanghai Daily. Their international stories are not bad and are relatively unbiased. Their business reporting is also generally pretty decent. Would I want my only news to come from these two papers? Hell no. But they do make for a nice adjunct.
China’s English language press is about ten times better today than it was five years ago and I will bet it will be at least twice as good in five years as it is today.
Ten years ago, Korea’s English language newspapers were a complete joke. I would read them on airplanes only, and I would spend no more than around five minutes doing so. You know when a country purchases 3-5 pages of advertisements in a newspaper or magazine to pitch itself as a country in which you should invest? Korea’s English language papers read just like those advertisements. Today, however, papers like the Korea Herald and the Korea Times are actually quite decent. The same was true of Japan’s English language newspapers fifteen years ago, but now papers like the English language version of the Yomiuri Shimbun are well worth a read.
So the defense of China’s English language press is that it could be worse and it is slowly getting better. Of course, the major difference between the press in China today and in Korea and Japan ten years ago is that China’s is state owned and that very well might limit real progress.
What do you think?