Why and How EastSouthWestNorth is Biased
Fact: EastSouthWestNorth is biased. The only questions are the why and how of it.
Let me start off by saying how it pains me to receive a friendly email that says something like: "EastSouthWestNorth is my main source of information about China. I have set it as my home page, and I come here everyday the first thing in order to find out about what is really going on in China." UGGGHHH!!! No, if your only reading is EastSouthWestNorth, you will get a very peculiar and biased view of China!!! I will admit it as such.
New York Times Editor Bill Keller spoke at the 2005 annual Association of National Advertisers conference: "Most of what you know, you know because of the mainstream media. Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That's not bad. But it's not enough." That will remain true. At best, EastSouthWestNorth will be the supplementary reading in addition to the mainstream media. However, I must make some distinctions among the different geo-political regions of Greater China (=mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan). For the English-only reader, it is important to note that the mainstream English-language media are completely different in these regions, and therefore EastSouthWestNorth provides very different supplementary information accordingly.
This is where the strength of the EastSouthWestNorth blog is right now. I will begin by starting to examine the situation of an English-only reader who does not read Chinese. What will you do to find news about China every day? This must matter, because this century is supposed to belong to the new and rising China.
You go to the usual sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Christian Science Monitor and others from the United States; BBC, Financial Times, The Guardian and others from the United Kingdom; Sydney Morning Herald from Australia; news agencies such as Associated Press, Reuters, Knight Ridder, Interfax, AFP, and others; magazines such as Newsweek, Time, The Economist and others. In each news source, you are apt to find limited coverage because there is only so much space that they can devote to China. So a better strategy would be to have a favorite newspaper (e.g. New York Times if you live in New York City), and then use a news aggregator such as China Digital Times and Google News to catch up on all the other major news stories about China.
Great! What is missing? To invert Bill Keller's statement on its head: "Most of what you know about China comes from the western mainstream media. However, China is a vast country with a population of 1.3 billion people, so you will only get a very brief glimpse of what is going on out there. That's not bad. But it's not enough." What is missing? The sum total of everything that is happening according to the tens of thousands of Chinese newspapers, websites, forums and blogs. Among these, very few are in English (and you would not want to count on China Daily as the counterweight). Rather, 99.9999% of the other information is written in Chinese.
Now I am someone who happens to read a lot of the Chinese-language media. On each day, I attempt to translate the best stories and present them in one or two blog posts here as well as about five or so "brief comments." I can categorize them as follows:
Yet, it is clear that I am selective in what I report and that entails a limited and subjective judgment. My personal interests are in media, culture, society and micro-politics, and I am mostly missing in action in military, law, macro-economics, national/international politics, etc. So while ESWN can provide some interesting reading, you must not mistake this as the full and complete picture of the vast country known as China.
Still, upon information and belief, the EastSouthWestNorth blog is hot right now among the 'China hands', as some western media workers regard the blog as a good source of ideas for new stories that comes from the Chinese-language media/blogosphere. It is also a major source of annoyance to them if the blogger complains about a particular piece of coverage because their colleagues, bosses and peers are reading it. Whether the EastSouthWestNorth blog influences a mass base is quite doubtful. But this is where we are right now.
Again, I will begin by starting to examine the situation of an English-only reader interested in Hong Kong. What will you do to find news about Hong Kong every day? I imagine that you will peruse the two major local English-language dailies: South Morning China Post (subscription required) and The Standard. Beyond those two, Hong Kong appears only occasionally in the western mainstream media. What are you getting? Politically speaking, both SCMP and The Standard can be characterized as centrist. Do you suppose that SCMP and The Standard is giving you a fair and balanced account of what is happening in Hong Kong? You must be joking!
As a morning routine, I begin my reading with SCMP and The Standard and I try to remember the major stories of interest according to them. Then I zip through the eight major local online newspapers (Apple Daily, Ming Pao, Sing Pao, Sing Tao, Oriental Daily, The Sun, Tai Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po) that span the entire political spectrum. In addition, I read the print copies of magazines such as Eastweek, Next Magazine, Yazhou Zhoukan, Ming Pao Weekly and Ming Pao Monthly.
When all said and done, this is what I tend to report on EastSouthWestNorth:
Now we come to the most misunderstood part of EastSouthWestNorth. There is no doubt that this explanation will generate even more complaints, and I have no expectation that this will mollify the critics.
Again, I will begin by starting to examine the situation of an English-only reader interested in Taiwan. What will you do to find news about Taiwan every day? There is little news in the western mainstream media, unless something extraordinary happens (such as yet another brawl in the Taiwan Legislature). If you get on Google and check on Taiwan, the major source of information is likely to be the English-language Taipei Times. With lesser frequency and volume is the staid China post. If you go to Asia Media, Taipei Times is their main source from Taiwan too. Do you think that you get a fair, accurate and balanced presentation of what is going on in Taiwan? You must be out of your mind.
If you can read Chinese, you will find out that the media leaders in Taiwan are Liberty Times, Apple Daily, China Times, United Daily News and a whole bunch of cable television channels such as TVBS, ETTV, Era TV, FTV and so on. Liberty Times is the sister publication of Taipei Times, and therefore its viewpoints are adequately represented to the English-only world via Taipei Times. The rest of the media are simply missing in action in English. So what EastSouthWestNorth is trying do here is to translate what appears in those other Chinese-language media. Most of the translated stories come straight from Apple Daily, China Times and UDN. Typically, they can be classified as follows:
The EastSouthWestNorth blogger does not necessarily want to do it, but does anyone else want to do it? If so, this blogger will happily relinquish his unrewarding role. The blogger will also lay this particular hypothetical scenario on the table: if Taipei Times were actually the sister newspaper of China Times and reflect the pan-blue viewpoint, the EastSouthWestNorth blogger would be translating from Liberty Times instead.