In a recent commentary in People’s Daily, columnist Curtis Stone draws an interesting parallel between US President Donald Trump’s continual complaints of “FAKE NEWS” and American media outlets’ “mostly negative” coverage of China.
America’s heated 2016 election further polarized Democrats and Republicans, a separation illustrated by the division of news outlets. Right wing voters gravitated towards outlets like Fox News and Breitbart, while liberal voters opted for more mainstream sources like the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Trump popularized the term “fake news” at several points along his campaign trail, accusing the mainstream media of trying to tarnish his image. On May 28th, he called this kind of news “an enemy of the people.”
Stone claims that China understands Trump’s frustration with overwhelmingly negative news and has been battling the “fake news problem” for years. Reports of China in American media rarely comment on the country’s positive achievements, instead condemning the Communist Party, labeling Chinese citizens as brainwashed and lamenting the lack of human rights, he argues, before citing a few examples taken straight from China’s propaganda office:
Many people have a biased view on China. If you search “Why does China want to” in Google, for instance, the top three predictions made by the popular search engine are: (1) go to war with America; (2) go to war with the U.S.; and (3) go to war. According to Google, search predictions are based on several factors, one of which is what other people are searching for. Yet China has never openly called for war against the U.S., despite challenges in the bilateral relationship. In fact, Chinese officials and the Chinese media frequently stress the benefits of bilateral cooperation and highlight stories of success between the two countries. This suggests people are not getting an accurate picture of China.
It’s not hard to see why China is sometimes wrongly vilified for its behavior. Reports that China stole an underwater drone, tortured a detained lawyer, shot dead a spy in a government courtyard, and unsafely intercepted a surveillance plane can bolster negative stereotypes about China. But did China rip a drone out of international waters? No, the drone was in China’s waters and after capturing it, China handed it over. Was the detained lawyer tortured? According to those involved, the story was fabricated to tarnish China’s image. Did China casually kill spies? Only according to a few unnamed U.S. officials. Did Chinese fighter jets unsafely intercept a spy plane in China’s airspace? Professional and safe, according to China’s Ministry of National Defense. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. People deserve to hear the real story of China.
While those not in the Chinese government may dispute some of Stone’s points, the fact that the US president has been so passionate about discrediting his country’s media, helps to make his case.
“Given U.S. President Trump’s frequent claims that his nation’s leading media outlets are mass producing fake news in order to advance their own political agendas, it’s rational to at least wonder if negative stories about China by the Western media are fabricated lies,” Stone concludes.
China has even begun to adopt the term “fake news” itself to shut down criticism. Back in March, state-controlled Chinese media addressed a news report which alleged that a Chinese lawyer had been tortured while in detention. “The stories were essentially fake news,” China’s official Xinhua news agency wrote.
Meanwhile, People’s Daily itself tweeted: “Foreign media reports that police tortured a detained lawyer is FAKE NEWS, fabricated to tarnish China’s image,” in a style that, as the New York Times points out, mimics Trump’s own all-caps tweets.
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) March 3, 2017
While both the US and Chinese governments are now using the term “fake news” to shut down criticism, fake news — that is, articles containing false information from questionable sources — are widespread in both countries, particularly flourishing on social media.
The Daily Mail, for example, has a bit of a reputation for making false reports and failing to fact-check. Wikipedia recently banned the Daily Mail from their citations, calling it “generally unreliable.” Though sources like the Daily Mail might be considered disreputable in the US, Sixth Tone reports that Chinese tabloids often borrow their false information, spreading “fake news” to the Chinese public.
A host of false news stories have appeared on Chinese outlets and gone viral, including claims that former president Barack Obama would refuse to give up his place in the White House if Trump won and that Hillary Clinton was selling weapons to the Islamic State.
Claims like those come from a variety of unreliable sources, from tabloids to parody news sites to extremist websites, but show that “fake news” appears regardless of political ideology.
In an article published yesterday, the Huffington Post compares Trump’s tendency to label certain information as “fake” to the years of propaganda put out by the Chinese government, quoting David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project.
“Generally speaking, facts are hostile to authoritarian systems,” Bandurski said. “These systems are rejoicing now because the commitment to truth seems to be failing in more democratic and open societies.”
In a country filled with government propaganda and unreliable sources, Huffpost suggests that the responsibility for finding the truth lies with the Chinese people. Independent and anonymous news agencies deliver reputable news across China, but people must know where to look, something that Americans may also have to learn how to do.
By Caroline Roy
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat