MSM's knee-jerk reporting: Nepal as an example

Yes, I mean Nepal. My geography is good enough to know Nepal from T0bed to its north, unlike the host who interviewed the US government official (my theory differs from the American left - the Security Adviser did it on purpose and host Stephanopolous did not, or was so absorbed in his 'pointed questions' that he did not care).

For the case of To-bed (东躲), enough have been said about how the editor/boss abuse the MSM to suit his own prejudice or agenda, or simply to reflect the partial point of view he sees, in which he either abandoned the ethic or was just unprofessional. So I thought I should look at other topics/geographies, to see if the same phenomenon is observed, without the noise of racism, or anti-China agenda. So I browsed MSM coverage on an adjacent country, by a much more respected media, the Economist. The Economist is reputed for its quality and 'neutrality'. So the shortfall in the Economist will probably mean there is similar flaw across the whole of MSM. (The reverse may not necessarily be true)

This is from the April 10th issue: titled "Mountains to climb"
  • More worrying, most of the pre-election violence was carried out by one of the main contestants: the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which in 2006 ended a decade-long armed struggle. Its 23,000-strong rebel army is corralled under UN eyes, but intact. On the stump, Maoist leaders argued that anything less than a sweeping victory for their party would be evidence of massive rigging.

  • That was ominous: the Maoists are believed, in the absence of any reliable opinion poll, to be widely detested. But that they took part in the election—twice postponed, once on their account—was worth celebrating. Nepal, a country of 28m people, is a poor, lawless and fractious place. It faces worsening ethnic, caste-based and regional conflicts. The hoarding of power and riches in the capital, Kathmandu, causes huge resentment, which fed the Maoist insurgency. Indeed, under the terms of a shambling peace process, the basic shape of the Nepali state is an open question. The election has improved the odds the answer will be found peacefully.

  • Assuming, that is, the Maoists accept the results. Winning at least 80 seats—out of a possible 601—is rumoured to be the bottom line for their continued commitment to democracy. But a convoluted electoral system, voter intimidation and the passage of time since Nepal's last serious election, in 1999, make the outcome hard to predict. The aggrieved southerners should also win at least 80 seats, though split between different parties. They are one of several marginalised ethnic or caste groups for whom a block of seats has been reserved. The Terai lot successfully agitated for improved terms in February through a two-week blockade of Kathmandu.
Reading this, my impression was, the Maoists are "widely detested" ("albeit absent of any reliable poll") in Nepal, and ([hence]), they probably won't accept the results, because they wanted to win at least 80 seats (out of a total of 601). Except that, I only got to read this issue one week later. i.e. I already knew the election result, as reported, e.g., by the Economist
  • The former rebels surprise everyone with a stunning electoral success. That may prove to have been the easy part
  • Defying every prediction but its own, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), until two years ago a feared rebel army, won handsomely.
  • A complicated electoral system, in which around 40% of seats are directly elected and 60% through proportional representation, has held up final results. But the Maoists, proscribed by America as terrorists, were on course for a clear majority in the first tranche, with 119 seats out of 224. And they had 33% of the vote in the second. They will certainly be the biggest party, but without a majority, in a 601-seat assembly, which will have a 30-month term limit and will be charged with drafting a new constitution.
  • The Maoists ended a decade-long armed struggle in 2006, after Nepal's King Gyanendra, who the previous year had seized absolute power, was compelled by street protests to hand it back. Entering a coalition government with six political parties, the scrubbed-up insurgents committed themselves to the democratic process. To many, this looked like either a tactical ploy or noble folly. Led by a charismatic guerrilla, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Prachanda (“awesome”, pictured above), the Maoists held sway in much of Nepal. But they were thought to be loathed for their part in a nasty war that left more than 10,000 dead. Most pundits expected them to be trounced at the polls.
  • They reckoned without three factors. First was the Maoists' manipulation of the result. Thugs from several parties terrorised voters. European Union observers of the election concluded it was held in a “general atmosphere of fear and intimidation”. But the Maoists' thugs were chiefly to blame. The party's candidates also hinted that if it lost, they might resume the war. And no doubt, in the country's many remote and lawless places, some voters wanted the Maoists in faraway Kathmandu—not their forests, stealing their food and pressganging their children.
This sounds quite familiar, the English use of the familiar word 'thug' (which we will see again later), and 'manipulation'. And should I say "pundit" who has (mis-)led the Economist in its prediction just a week ago that "the Maoist are widely detested"?

Fortunately, the Economist is still good when facts are so obvious that manipulation (or misconception) is not easy. It only try to sway you the less than obvious. Further down the article, we see the real truth
  • Yet even near Kathmandu, where some 2,000 foreign election observers were clustered and there were few reports of malpractice, the Maoists won seven of 15 directly elected seats. In the eastern Terai area, next to India, the Maoists had been supplanted by local nationalist groups, both armed and democratic. Yet they have so far won ten out of 27 seats there.
  • A second explanation for the results is more convincing: that Nepalis were sick of the alternatives. These were chiefly the Nepali Congress (NC) party, which dominates the ruling coalition, and its traditional rival, a mainstream leftist party known as the UML (for “Unified Marxist-Leninist”). Both were tarnished by spells of corrupt and ineffective rule during the 1990s. As for King Gyanendra, he can also take his cue from the electorate. At the Maoists' insistence, the 240-year-old monarchy was provisionally abolished in December—a sentence that the next assembly is due to confirm. This seemed undemocratic at the time; it doesn't now. Nepal's three small royalist parties won no directly elected seat: ie, one fewer than the tiny Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party, which supports North Korea's Kim Jong Il.
  • ..As the biggest party of government, the Maoists may now be in a position to insist. However, their deputy leader, Baburam Bhattarai, implies that they will test their new strength carefully. “Before, we were in a stage of making demands; now we are in a stage of implementation,” he said, seated beneath a poster exhorting workers everywhere to unite behind “Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Prachandaism!!” This last “ism”, which describes the Maoists' struggle as a “bourgeois peasant revolution”, is tricky to pin down. Their economic policies, which include seeking foreign investment for Nepal's hydropower industry, seem quite liberal. Many of their social policies, which the Maoists describe as a war against “feudalism”, are also laudable. Besides scrapping a discredited monarchy, they would fight caste-based discrimination, the deprivation of tribal groups and the exploitation of landless labourers. For poor Nepalis, all this makes a popular message. That is the third—weirdly overlooked—reason for the peasant revolutionaries' great victory. Of course, making big promises is easier than keeping them, and the Maoists will disappoint. The question is: how badly?
Now you can see, how presumption could blind even the high-IQ, mostly oxbridge-educated Economist researchers and editors, as reflected in the difference between its two reports, and how it has learned (together with its readers). The "Maoist" must be bad and detested (which could be safely assumed "absence of any reliable poll"), since Mao himself had made so many major mistakes in China in his later years, and that other Maoist (Peruvian) had failed eventually. What the Economist had "weirdly" overlooked was, the similarity in Nepal today vs China in the early half of the last century, or for that matter, T1-bet in 1950s with a "“feudalism with caste-based discrimination".

Now let's go back to Tobed, and the Olympic, and see how it was reported by the Economist --not sure if James Miles wrote it, or a heavy-handed editor chipped in and secretly loaded the language
  • The torch's bad week started in London on April 6th, where hundreds of protesters dogged it, as it was passed from famous hand to hand. At one point, protesters were blocked as it was whisked to Chinatown to give China's ambassador the chance to clasp it for a while. China's flag had an outing too. Hundreds of Chinese students were bused in. Some protesters were unruly, and 37 arrested.
This looks like an even handed writing, at first. Except if you read a bit more carefully. Are the "hundreds of Chinese students "bused in"? (or some of the hundreds took the bus?) The way I understand "bused in" is some pre-arranged trip for some elderly innocent people who may not know where they were bused to when they boarded the bus. Is this what our reader could have thought as well (or are intended to be led to think so)? When "some" protesters became unruly, clearly both side, but more likely, "some of those hundreds who bused in" (it was deliberately unclear given where this line is located) were unruly, one was led to think. In reality, was any single one of the 37 arrested those Chinese students? The Economist must have known the answer. But it would try not to clarify. Propaganda is better this way.

Further down,
  • The torch was guarded not just by the police but by a phalanx of Chinese men in blue-and-white tracksuits. Their jurisdiction was hazy, but their demeanour unmistakable. As Lord Coe, chairman of the committee organising the 2012 London Olympics, was heard to say, they were “thugs”. Their presence outraged even those who could not find Tibet on a map.
  • ...The Chinese press have called the thugs in blue and white “valiant and heroic”. It has reported that the squad is made up of officers from the paramilitary People's Armed Police, who have been training for this role since last August, including learning to give orders in five languages.
I was first amused, what is the percentage of the protestors who were neither Tibetan nor Chinese could find Tibet on a map? But what troubled me more is, the unfortunate torch guards were first described with a quotation mark in an alleged quote, as "thug", a paragraph later the quotation mark has mysteriously been edited away and "thug" morphed officially into the thugs in blue and white, without the quotation mark. I wish Mr Miles, whom I respect, could explain this, and I do not accept that this is a typo. Otherwise, the anonymous editor could have tainted his professionalism for the rest of his life.

Tobed and China is not small country like Nepal. I am also pretty sure the Economist knows the complexity of the Tobed issue (many smaller media could pass as an honest mistake or being ignorance. But I have too much respect for the Economist for such a simple explanation). Yet for Nepal it reckoned its mistake and tried hard to find an explanation, perhaps successfully, while in the case of Tobed it continues to plunge and self-indulge.

The lesson of the comparison of the 2 Nepal reports:
  1. The press has its prejudice, due to lack of information, laziness or lack of resources, which is the same in either the case of Nepal or Tobet. In these two cases the link to communist or mao puts one in innate disadvantage. Perhaps our friend 88s has correctly put it, had the C-cp changed its name and claim to be no longer communist, as it really is not, the whole situation may be different
  2. The Economist (or MSM, or Western in general), respect democracy. i.e., had the Chinese government gone through the test of democracy, like the Maoist in Nepal did, the MSM might eventually have to go through a soul-searching process (like the Economist in its second article). Perhaps until that day, the MSM is still against China, consciously or subconsciouly?
It thence appears, it is not really free reporting in T0bet that had contributed to the MSM biase. It is the original sin of China as a communist country in name (even though it is now more capitalistic than 2/3 of the European countries), and perhaps also about other something, for example, this, and this.


momo said...

Since you are playing word police ;-0 at the mo, what about this one from IHT, that joint propaganda organ of NY S***me and Wash P**s.
The writer said that Ban Ki Moon, a Korean, will not attend BJ Olympix opening.
Ban is the SG of UN. What the fish has being a Korean got to do with it?
No wonder the most authoritative level of writing on that rag goes no higher than Suzy Menkes.

Sun Bin said...

"word police", that is one alphabet always from YKW. that put me to shame.

i got a couple issues of recent Newsweek. You can really see the nuance and difference. I think the editors were doing the word police job. For Newsweek, as Fareed Zakaria was doing that job. There is few fault I could find.

If I could generalize this (I don't have the data points, so this is just a hypothesis). Those people in China who called to harass the reporters should stop. They should target the editors at the headquarters.
If they drove away the reporters here who had mostly spent years in China, speak the language, have a few Chinese friens, and could definitely relate to, listen to, and hence sympathize with the Chinese. Whoever come as replacement could only be worse.
So here I would propose them call them up to apologize.

Richard said...

There's so much banging on and on about this "bias" point as if there's any mystery. The western media, particularly the British media, has never claimed to be "unbiased" "balanced" or any of the rest of it. Like it or hate it, there's really no reason to overanalyse it, it wears it on its sleeve. Some papers are right wing, some left wing, some free trade fundamentalists (like Economist)... they have agendas and set out to prove them. All this "before I used to trust the Western media because it was unbiased" is b****cks. No-one ever thought it was unbiased.
Trouble for China is one bias they all have in common is to be in favour of free speech and against countries that don't practise it, et China. They regard not to be as like snowmen voting for summer. They don't like Maoist parties elsewhere because they think it will lead to repression (and, in the Economist's case, an end to the free market capitalism of which it approves).
All biases lead to mistakes. One hopes they will be rectified. But being "balanced" leads to the discovery of no facts at all - just the even-handed recitations of other people's lies...

Sun Bin said...

"But being "balanced" leads to the discovery of no facts at all - just the even-handed recitations of other people's lies..."
huh? you have a very innovative definition of 'balanced'.

yes, many media has position. i think we are saying the same thing (re: how they are prejudiced against the Nepali maosit).
but most media are quite fair, factual and balanced. the british tend to play with words more, but i think it is the US media are just as more polarized.
even WSJ, with its biased editorials, the reports are in general factual and balanced.

the fact that many media are biased does mean that we should not criticize them. it is, precisely the reason for readers to be critical.

you can say there is nothing we can do and nothing we should do. if that is your point of view, i suppose you are also very satisfied with xinhua.

H said...

Hello there,
I'm one of those journalists (from the UK, in Beijing briefly)....i was wondering if I could pick your brain on a couple of things? If you pick this up, do you think you could possibly email me on: hannahhuntley@yahoo.co.uk. Many thanks.

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master_of_americans said...

Can you imagine how much MSM would flip out if a party calling itself "Nazi" came to power in some nation? Or if a party calling itself "Confederate Revivalist" came to power somewhere in the American South? I don't have a strong opinion about what conclusion to draw from this flipping out, though. I was actually a little bit surprised that the media coverage I saw of Nepal's elections seemed so blase.

Also, by the way, I don't know how much you know about Justin Raimondo, but it's interesting to note that when he says, "If the Chinese are wrong to hold on to their province of Tibet, then Lincoln was wrong to insist that the South stay in the Union", Raimondo is a person who definitely thinks that Lincoln was wrong to invade the South. In my opinion, he has the situation just about right. Criticism of China's Tibet policy will be seen a certain way in China, and the U.S. foreign policy planners certainly can try to manipulate the situation, but neither of those facts changes the basics of what is going on there.

Anonymous said...

The Economist does it again:


Which is to carefully over-analyse a situation to reach a completely counterintuitive conclusion and suggest that a 'bad' regime/idea is about to collapse. Again.

That perhaps this is not the best time to suggest that Chinese people are not behind their government is lost on the Economist. Nope, instead they choose to rehash some old favourite topics somewhat out of context, use the word 'illusion' and then go and create their own.

Sun Bin said...

well, i think expressing their view/criticism/etc, and putting pressure is all fine, as the Economist's article said. the point that it missed is that lies and twisting of facts are unlikely to help these causes.

the economist is still in denial that there was ever any biase. they (MSM and the economist) need to realize that the outrage is not "out of all proportion" and that it is not the government that "encouraged the outburst".
the government did not actively stop it and let the steam off is what it did.