current affairs media

On reading biased news

A little update on my project to read the news from a different source every week. I’m six weeks into the experiment and currently reading the headlines on the European edition of China Daily.

It’s a newspaper that is owned by China’s Communist Party, so you can imagine the kind of news it offers. It covers all the global headlines, but they come salted with articles such as  ‘Western media reveal China bias’ and ‘Which country is the real threat to global stability? It’s not China’. A link in the top corner takes the reader to a special section called Xi’s Moments, where there are updates and speeches, videos celebrating achievements, and ‘a peek into Xi’s bookshelves’.

This is exactly what I was after when reading China Daily – not because I care about what Mr Jinping had for breakfast, but because it’s a different perspective on the  news. There are different priorities in operation, different ideas of what is important. And here, of course, China is what matters. Its standing in the world is of primary importance.

It’s easy to poke fun at, but like Jesus said, we can see the speck in our brother’s eye and miss the plank in our own. This week The Times ran the headline ‘EU has ‘sneering disregard’ for patriotic Britons, says Clegg‘, while the Telegraph spoke of the ‘The 37 rules Britain could be forced to accept during Brexit transition‘. Among the Independent’s stories were ‘Foreign leaders think UK has ‘lost the plot’ by pursuing Brexit, says a former head diplomat‘. All these headlines betray a nagging anxiety about Britain’s place in the world that’s not so different from China’s Communist Party worrying that it isn’t getting the respect that it deserves.

Every news source has a bias, of course, and I’m not picking on anyone here. All papers will to a certain degree be biased towards the nation where they are based, though they will express it in different ways. Some will support a particular political party or standpoint. There may be editorial positions on certain topics, such as climate change or Brexit – something clear in my three choices above. Sometimes this is front and centre as part of its appeal. On a quality paper it’s more subtle.

If we want to keep an open mind about what we read, we’ll want to be alert to bias and to the unspoken assumptions behind our news source of choice. To that end, it’s quite helpful to read the headlines from a site where there is a very clear bias. It alerts us to how it operates. It equips us to spot home-grown forms of bias more easily when we encounter them. So although it’s not the highest quality news source out there, I can recommend spending some time with China Daily.


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