Superficial, biased reporting hurting ties between nations

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2005, 12:00am

Despite the proliferation of media reports in China and Japan about each other, most of the coverage is one-sided and superficial, say two long-time observers of the Sino-Japanese relationship.

The coverage has multiplied over the past few years as the countries have become entangled in an increasingly complex relationship.

Economically the two are mutually dependant, with Japan now China's biggest trade partner and China Japan's No2 trade partner. But politically they are almost entirely at odds and bilateral ties are at a historic low.

Kiyoshi Takai, professor of International Media and Communication at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, said most of the media coverage each country had of the other was shallow and stereotyped.

And he said the political situations in both countries meant the media now played an unprecedented role in shaping the bilateral relationship.

'In Mao and Deng's era, China's foreign policy was set by the party leaders, who could direct public opinion though their absolute authority,' said Professor Takai, a former Beijing correspondent for the Japanese Yomiuri newspaper.

'The authority of the Chinese government is no longer absolute. Chinese people are much bolder. They will question the government and voice their anger. The Koizumi administration is also weak and easily swayed by public opinion. The media now have unprecedented power to shape the ties.'

But the lack of press freedom in China and self-centred coverage allowed room for extremist views. Professor Takai warned that biased reports were breeding misunderstanding and hatred.

'Chinese newspapers are influenced by commercialism. Tabloids want to use provocative reports to sell newspapers. Most of the reports on Japan just focus on the military, the wartime past and political conflict,' he said.

Professor Takai said that for Chinese newspapers, attacking Japan was a popular yet politically correct way to boost circulation. Sensational stories were splashed and more moderate voices were cast aside.

Tomoyoshi Isogawa, editorial writer for Japan's biggest national newspaper, the Asahi, agrees that the Chinese media focus too much on negative news about his country.

'I once asked some Chinese correspondents in Tokyo why they only wrote bad news about Japan. They replied that it was because positive stories would not be used,' Mr Isogawa said.

'Before the protest, I read a lot of negative reports about Japan in Chinese newspapers. I began to worry that something would happen. It is unusual for a country to have so many negative reports of another country in their newspapers.'

On the other hand, Professor Takai says Japanese media are too simplistic and self-centred in their reports about China, most of them blaming the massive anti-Japanese protests on the mainland in April on Beijing's patriotic education and anti-Japanese propaganda.

'If the Chinese public was still as credulous of official propaganda as before, Beijing would be overjoyed. The anti-Japanese sentiment in China is more complicated than that. Historic factors are very important,' he said. 'But the Japanese media fail to recognise this. It shows how simplistic they are.'

Professor Takai said he was concerned that misunderstanding in both countries would deepen because of the biased media coverage.

'In the past, the Japanese media have overlooked the importance of China. Now, we have more reports on China, but many are just skimming the surface or are purely statistical,' he said.

'For the Chinese media, Japan-bashing has become an obsession. Japan is a free society and we have conflicting views and voices. If you only selected the proactive ones to report, it would be very unfair.'