A letter from a reader about China, media bias, and press freedom

July 22, 2007:

I agree with Ye Ma's May 9 letter, "China and democracy," in response to Yigong Shi's March 7 letter, and wish to add a comment on whether American media are biased about China, which is Shi's view in his letter about PAW's Jan. 24 article "Rules of engagement."

Ordinarily a magazine would not entertain reply to reply to reply on one issue and thus, ordinarily I would not write a third-round letter. However, the view that "the U.S. media are biased about China" is not an ordinary statement; rather, it is a prevalent view that has been commonly accepted by many people in China and in the United States. Thus, I feel that it is necessary to further clarify this.

The question whether "the U.S. media are biased about China" is a wrong question, because as Ma pointed out in his letter, there is no objective measure for it. Take the case of the U.S. media's coverage of the U.S. – both CNN and Fox News can be biased, depending on whom we ask.

The real issue is whether the media are free in a country.

Press freedom will drive media to compete for audience. If most media are grossly biased in reporting a country, then a news agency expressing a different view will capture an unserved audience that is tired of the biased reports, and will gain readership and thus advertising revenue. This mere economic incentive, aside from lofty beliefs, will guarantee that the freedom of press from government control will produce news coverage for all countries, including China, with the most diversity and highest quality. This is what we have in America.

On the contrary, in a country in which the government controls the media, a report about a foreign country can be either biased or unbiased, depending on the standard and the preference of the government.

Which of the two systems can consistently produce better, less biased news reporting in the long run is pretty obvious.

Professor of International Business
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, Va.


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