ON SATURDAY a Japanese journalist was killed on the streets of Bangkok as he filmed clashes between the Government and the ‘Red Revolution’ protestors.
Hiro Muramoto was shot in the chest, and press freedom watchdogs are calling for an investigation in to his death to establish whether he was killed by the Thai army or by the protestors. Coverage shot during his last day shows that both sides were armed with guns.
Video, without journalistic interference, allows for an audience to form their own opinion. Comparing how print journalists in different nations are covering of the Thailand ‘Red Revolution’ – so called because the protestors are choosing to wear Red – is interesting. Not least because it becomes a delicate dance of trying to tease out what the motivations of journalists are in nations far different to my own.
Today both The Guardian Online and the online version of The China Post have covered the same events. Both have included straight leads as part of a wider package which includes analysis and comment on the events themselves. When subjecting them to a quick comparison some interesting points can be made.
Comparative Research is becoming an increasingly popular area of Journalism Studies. Patterson and Donsbach (1996) provided an interesting analysis of the different journalists operate in a number of Western countries and their findings proved interesting in showing, particularly, how Anglo-Saxon nation principles of objective journalism, did not translate in to all Western journalism.
When comparing the coverage in these two newspapers the similarities as well as the differences appear significant. A quick Content Analysis of the news stories shows both newspapers use traditional Western news construction – the inverted pyramid structure – and quite formal language. It appears they both are aiming to present themselves as balanced and knowledgable about the events.
The fact that The China Post follows Western news constructs could be seen as significant in terms of Taiwan’s relationship with Western democracy.
The China Post is based in Taiwan which is governed as part of the Republic of China (ROC) not the People’s Republic of China (POC). Whether Taiwan should have automatically fallen under POC rule, or whether it should become an independent state has been international to-ing and fro-ing, which they attempted to resolve through creating a democracy in the 1990s. At the moment it exists as a kind of political mirage – neither declaring themselves as an independent nation or to accepted or denied as an independent state by the international community. This is a deliberate attempt to maintain the status quo rather than to fall fowl of their powerful neighbour.
To maintain the illusion of democracy, it could be argued that there also has to be the illusion of a free press. So to adopt Westernised news’ constructs could be seen as a political decision on the part of the paper.
But understanding the motivations of journalists on The China Post is as confusing as understanding the political system in Taiwan. Certainly they seem to advocate their nation’s principle of maintaining the status quo above all else in their comment piece and in their news coverage. Both the Thai Government and the protestors are criticised in parts, but the criticism centres around the act of revolution and violence itself, rather than on the motivations behind it. They do not make partisan political comment about the situation or the repercussions for the rest of Asia.
The Guardian play it very straight in their news, simply presenting facts using standard Western news construction and style.
But in their editorial comment The Guardian appear to be attempting to debunk myths surrounding the revolution and explain that this not a simply a case of the poor rural Thai versus richer Urbanites. In comparison to the China Post, their comment is far more partisan, and while pointing out that there are faults on both sides, they blame ousted Tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra – around whom the Red Shirts are rallying – for stirring up problems. While the China Post comments about events, The Guardian comments about the wider political significance And perhaps the fact that they can do so, when the China Post does not, shows what real freedom of press is really about.
Ultimately while this kind of Comparitive Analysis is useful, the difficulties of any researcher when looking at journalism from other countries, is that it is difficult to really understand the motivations and difficulties faced by journalists there. And while research is about providing evidence, a knowledge of the political and social landscape in which journalists are operating is, in my opinion, essential.
But then again, this is the very reason why comparisons like these are such a necessary part of journalism studies. Because how can we understand the political and social landscape without research in to it?
Sheesh. My brain hurts!
China Post news
China Post editorial