"You can't imagine the world without it."
That's the tagline on CNN's advert touting the 25th anniversary of its founding as the world's first 24-hour-news channel on June 1, 1980. For once in this age of incessant media hype, it's a boast that's actually accurate.
For people who are old enough, it's confirmed by a simple glance back to how news was delivered before the maverick media mogul Ted Turner took the biggest gamble of his career to launch the all-news network.
ILLUSTRATION: YU SHA
People used to read their newspapers in the morning, and then usually forgot about the news till the evening, when oracle-like anchors told them what was happening in the world.
CNN smashed that model to smithereens, offering viewers news as it happened -- a key attribute in our get-it-now society, where events are often born, hyped and forgotten before the old-time news anchors have even put on their make-up.
"CNN heralded a new era in TV journalism," says media professor Bob Thompson of Syracuse University.
From a staff of 225 broadcasting to an estimated 1.7 million viewers, the network has grown to a behemoth employing over 4,000 and reaching a global audience of 260 million. Peasants and politicians, models and mechanics, intellectuals and the less mentally gifted, all watch CNN.
Now the news never stops, even though some of it can hardly be called news. Thanks to an incessant ratings war between CNN and its competitors, the items that often fill the airwaves have more in common with a voyeuristic reality television channel than a serious news organization.
Among the spots that played repeatedly in the days leading up to CNN's anniversary were videos of a policeman being run over during a routine traffic spot, a bear taking a dip in a swimming pool and a school bus driver getting into a fight with two of his teenage passengers. In the weeks before, there were days of round-the-clock coverage of the runaway bride story, which can be best summed up this way: If you haven't heard about it, you didn't miss anything.
Some media pundits say the attention paid to these seemingly unimportant ditties prove the "dumbing down of news." But it could also be seen as the price CNN must pay to stay competitive in a modern world where frivolity and entertainment are key attractions.
More profound has been the effect of live omnipresent coverage on actual events. One recent example: the mass pilgrimage to Rome following the recent death of the Pope. While other factors like open borders and improved transport certainly played a role in sparking one of the largest tributes in the history of Christendom, it was undoubtedly the enthusiastic and relentless reports from the Vatican which prompted many of the visitors to make the trip.
But the events which truly showcased the symbiotic relationship between live news and the events they report were the Sept. 11 attacks.
"9/11 was a made for media event," Thompson said. "It was a TV movie directed by the people who planned the event. They knew that after the first plane hit, every camera in Manhattan would be trained on the twin towers."
Elsewhere, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall also owed much to the broadcast of live news via satellite which the government could not control, Thompson argues.
Paradoxically it is these moments of live drama that showcase both the best and worst of CNN. Live pictures of war, struggle, drama and defeat give viewers a spellbinding sense of witnessing history as it happens.
But they also sacrifice intelligence for immediacy -- forcing journalists to speculate and ad-lib on air while they watch the same pictures as the rest of us without the time or resources to digest the raw information.
"In the past the public wasn't part of the process. Journalists used to get all the information and only then publish," said Patricia Dean, the head of broadcast studies at the Annenberg School of Journalism.
"Now the early and erroneous information gets out and the news is distorted," she said.
But these problems have not daunted Turner's enthusiasm and his belief that the organization he founded has been of huge benefit to the world.
"Today, 25 years after CNN first launched, there are more than 70 television channels broadcasting 24-hour news coverage around the world -- a true testament that CNN changed the world of broadcasting and journalism," he crows. "Where would we be today if networks like CNN had not been there to capture `people power' as the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union collapsed?"
Or for that matter, when the bride ran away.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) chairman Mark Liu (劉德音) said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would render the company’s plants inoperable, and that such a war would produce “no winners.” Not only would Taiwan’s economy be destroyed in a cross-strait conflict, but the impact “would go well beyond semiconductors, and would bring about the destruction of the world’s rules-based order and totally change the geopolitical landscape,” Liu said in the interview, according to the Central News Agency. Bloomberg columnist Hal Brands wrote on June 24: “A major war over Taiwan could create global economic
Amid a fervor in the global media, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her congressional delegation made a high-profile visit to Taipei. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) awarded a state honor to her at the Presidential Office. Evidently, the occasion took on the aspect of an inter-state relationship between the US and the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, despite no mutual state recognition between the two. Beijing furiously condemned Pelosi’s visit in advance, with military drills in the waters surrounding coastal China to check the move. Pelosi is a well-known China hawk, and second in the line of succession to
Washington’s official position on US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is that nothing has changed: The US government says it is maintaining its “one China” policy, that Pelosi is free to arrange international trips with congressional delegations independent of the government and that she is not the first US official to visit Taiwan even this year. Yet there is no denying that the fact and the optics of the second-in-line to the US presidency speaking with lawmakers at the Legislative Yuan about inter-parliamentary discussions and learning from each other as equals are hugely significant, as were
A stark contrast in narratives about China’s future is emerging inside and outside of China. This is partly a function of the dramatic constriction in the flow of people and ideas into and out of China, owing to China’s COVID-19 quarantine requirements. There also are fewer foreign journalists in China to help the outside world make sense of developments. Those foreign journalists and diplomats who are in China often are limited in where they can travel and who they can meet. There also is tighter technological control over information inside China than at any point since the dawn of the