Fake News!

Chris Zhang

October, 2017

Image courtesy of  Puerto Vallarta News

Image courtesy of Puerto Vallarta News

 

This is not about Trump, about conservative news outlets blaming problems on minorities and immigrants, or about Western media’s liberal bias.  The bias in question is towards countries or parts of the world that the government has an interest in portraying negatively.

Over half of adults in America have an overwhelming sense of trust in the news. A Reuters poll showed that around half of American adults consistently trust the media,  while the remainder’s opposition are due to partisan bias against specific media outlets.

There is a great deal of conversation about media partisan bias, as well as the lack of coverage about events happening in the developing world. There is another source of bias that does not get enough attention: the purposefully misleading, or even factually untrue reporting, of countries outside the Western sphere of influence.

The Middle East is an example that has received some attention, ever since “Operation Iraqi Liberation was noted to spell “OIL” as an unfortunate coincidence. Attempts to point out these issues included the Chilcot report (a British national inquiry into the role of Britain in the Second Gulf War), which discovered, among other things, that Iraq’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destructions was unconfirmed.  Furthermore, it was found that he United Kingdom and United States acted unilaterally in moving into Iraq without proper consultation of the United Nations. 

However, most people still are unaware of the existence of these reports and the conclusions they draw.

Another issue in Western media is the prejudicial choice of words. Frequently media associates “Sunni Muslim” to “terrorist”, and governments that oppose the current world order are labelled as “regimes” even if democratically elected. This dichotomizes “us” against “them”, and allows the media to dictate who the enemy is to the general public.

This practice continues to the present-day crisis in Syria, when the United States broke a ceasefire that the U.S.- Russian coalition brokered by launching an airstrike on a Syrian base in September 2016. The Deir ez-Zor air raid killed over a hundred Syrian Army Soldiers. Despite the high level of fatalities, the media chose to focus on Russia’s alleged responsibility for a subsequent attack on a U.N. aid convoy.

Since Russia is known for spreading anti-USA propaganda and having severe laws against individual freedoms, the country is hardly exemplary. However, this is also a consequence of efforts made by the media to discredit Russia.

Conversely, little is said about Putin’s significant achievements of reducing Russian national debt, standing strong against the inflow of Americanized culture, and reforming Russia into a country with enough clout to defend its own interests. Perhaps it is precisely because of those achievements that Western media discredits him.

These portrayals came into light once again after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. President Yanukovych was presented as a rich autocrat supporting ties with Russia and suppressing a democratically elected minority party. This portrayal omitted that the opposition gained power through a coup, whilst Yanukovych was catering to the majority of Ukrainians and pushing for a closer relationship with NATO.

Nonetheless, this article does not dispute that Russia is responsible for some of the allegations held against it.  It however seeks to realize the bias of Western media. Putin may have been KGB, but Bush Sr. was CIA.

Sometimes, misinformation can be heavy-handed enough to almost constitute propaganda. For instance, the coverage of Duterte’s extrajudicial killings coincided perfectly with the Philippines economic rapprochement with Russia and China. Of course, it did not help that Duterte was unconventionally outspoken and brash. Effectively, the noise about the killings trumped his achievements of extensive tax reform and free tertiary education.

More laughable yet was an image circulating on various media outlets, including Time and the Huffington Post, about a screen in China’s Tiananmen Square showing a video of a sunrise and clear skies that people could admire – as if to fool the public of the poor air quality. The screen was an advertising billboard playing a tourism ad, and was in no way relating to the air quality. The true story would have been entertaining enough, but Western media insisted on giving it a negative spin.

Before this takes the tone of a conspiracy theory, and begins to sound too Orwellian, remember that news outlets have another reason to paint the world in black and white: people like to pick sides, and like to have a clear villain in every story.

Regardless of the cause, one should be prudent the next time they open an article from an article from The New York Times, or even The Economist. Think before repeating that factoid.  Consider visiting news outlets from different spheres of influence. Keep in mind that all governments’ have an agenda: to convince you that their country follows the most just cause.