Duelling Journos : A Comparison of Initial Reporting on the Outbreak of the Hong Kong Protests

It is said the ancient practise of water calligraphy was adopted by revolutionaries in China to spread messages in public places
(Photo: author’s own)

Imagine a globally newsworthy event; a hugely public clash of ideologies between a government which prides control above all else and an enormous grassroots movement protesting against it. An event far too big to ignore and one that is by its nature sure to draw international attention. How will the participants attempt to control the narrative? Will they flood media outlets with information, restrict it, manipulate it, selectively report it, ignore it? And how effective will these tools be?

The outbreak of the Hong Kong protests was just such an event. An analysis of the initial reporting on the protests gives us an idea of the motivations behind various news outlets and the techniques they use to advance these agendas.

China Daily is an English language newspaper owned by the Publicity Department of the People’s Republic of China. Their first mention of the protests was not until two days after their occurrence and was framed not around the protestors but around Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. The article is full of appeals to authority and condemnation of the protestors. Its message is clear; the protestors do not represent the will of the people of Hong Kong. However how effective will this denial be against the background of hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets?

Many Taiwanese strongly value their autonomy from Beijing and follow the Hong Kong protests closely
(Photo: author’s own)

The Taiwan-based English language newspaper The Taipei Times reported the protests very differently. Taiwan itself occupies a unique position; while it officially proclaims its status as a sovereign nation it is also claimed by Beijing as a part of the People’s Republic of China. The level to which Taiwan and Mainland China are willing to intertwine is a matter of no small debate and its recent election of the anti-Beijing candidate Tsai Ing-Wen as president is seen by some as evidence of just how much Taiwan still values its autonomy.

Of course, this means the results of Hong Kong’s attempt to assert its own independence against Beijing will be followed closely. Its initial article reporting on the protests gave strong voices to the protestors, using many direct quotes from them. It also employed what could be seen as pre-emptive attempts to undermine Beijing’s narrative about the event.

Here we have a conflict between not just political but also journalistic ideologies. China Daily’s approach seems to harken back to Cold War-era tactics of selective reporting of information. But this situation bears little resemblance to that. Here the actors are not only sovereign nations; they are a grassroots movement and regions with varying levels of autonomy within the nebulous structure of China. Modern technology means images immediately flood the web and protestors themselves are given a voice, all delivered without the ‘middle-man’ use of the authority figures we used to rely on to deliver this information. This is a situation that can inform us not just about the event itself but also the tools used by individuals and media outlets with varying levels of support and opposition to the establishment. The real question is; how accurate and convincing are these tools?

Anthony O Connor : https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthonyoconnor/