Tue, Mar 13, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letter: What AP did wrong

By Michael Turton

The recent "scum of the nation" flap, and the response to it from the Taipei Times, Associated Press (AP) and other organizations, shows that the media still do not understand why Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) -- along with those of us who follow international media coverage of Taiwan -- find the story so offensive.

The issue is not, as the Taipei Times framed it in a recent editorial ("Annette Lu tames the world press," March 10, page 8), one of naive bias on the part of CNN and AP. Nobody is accusing either organization of slanting stories to favor China. Rather, the issue is the foreign media's uncritical incorporation of propaganda from Beijing into its reporting on Taiwan in a way that is automatic and unconsidered, allowing those opinions to shape its discourse on the nation, instead of developing a robust understanding of Taiwan in its own context.

The "scum of the nation" story is an excellent example of how this works. Instead of selecting one of the numerous other possible angles on Lu -- Lu the politician, Lu the feminist, Lu the activist, Lu the Taiwanese -- AP chose to lead with what Bejing said. This constant and reflexive use of verbiage from Beijing to frame Taiwan continues throughout the article. Elsewhere in the article the writer, a Hong Kong Chinese, refers to "Beijing's sacred view" of its claim to Taiwan. Once again, we get Beijing's take on things.

Once again, Beijing frames Taiwan. Why not Taiwan's "sacred view" of its own independence and democracy? And what is the word "sacred" doing in a news report in the first place?

The article goes on to offend further, reporting that "Taiwan has been ruled separately from China since the Communists won a civil war and took over the mainland in 1949." This is a common formulation, but the implication that Taiwan and China were one nation prior to this period is a historical error -- yet it is commonly reported in the foreign media as if it were true -- since (it goes without saying) Beijing claims this is the case.

Of course, no foreign media article on a pro-democracy politician is complete without referring to the tensions such people allegedly cause: "... and tensions with China would likely rise if she were elected."

In fact, tensions would only likely rise if Lu were elected because Beijing would cause them to do so -- as it does whenever Taiwan exercises its democracy. Democracy and its supporters do not cause tensions -- it is opposition to democracy that creates tensions. The article once again chooses a Beijing-centric frame to discuss Taiwan.

Longtime media watchers in Taiwan are wearisomely familiar with the international media bogeyman constructed out of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁): "Mad Chen," the "Crazed Independence Radical" -- He Can Cause a War At Any Moment, He's So Crazy! Here we see the script for "Mad Annette" in its first draft.

Near the end of the article the writer refers to the assassination attempt by a pan-blue supporter on Chen and Lu in 2004, noting: "The opposition alleged the shooting was staged to win sympathy votes." Fundamentally, there was no reason to mention the shooting; it is irrelevant to Lu's presidential candidacy. "The opposition" is a coy reference to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

The writer also failed to mention that no evidence supports the opposition claims, making a hollow pretense of the sound journalistic ethic of balance in assigning equal weight to nonsense claims, and using the phrase "the police said" as if no investigation was conducted and no chain of evidence was followed. Note that the opposition's claim is set off in a sentence of its own, and that it comes last in the discussion of the assassination attempt. It goes with saying that Beijing supports the opposition on that one.

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