Today for some unknown length of time, CNN.com was running a "quickvote" poll asking readers to vote "yes" or "no" to the question: "Should the Olympics in China be boycotted?" CNN.com is not my regular source of global news, and when I do read it I check their RSS feed not the website, so I found out about their online poll from this post on the Chinese tech site DoNews, which reposted an item from the blog dengjin.com. The blogger instructs readers how to vote "no" and urges them to do so in large numbers:
The blog post was published some point today, and DoNews republished it at around 5pm Beijing/Hong Kong time. I checked the CNN.com website at 10:30pm Hong Kong time and found they've replaced that poll with this thing:
OK... right. [UPDATE 9am Weds HKT: somebody has accused me of implying that the poll was hacked. That's not what I meant. The point is that CNN.com replaced the poll quickly after Chinese netizens started all voting "no" in big numbers...or perhaps somebody complained.]
It's well known by now that Chinese cyberspace for the past several days has been seething with anger against CNN and most Western media for what many Chinese netizens feel is blatant anti-China bias. If you haven't seen the anti-CNN website check it out. (The Washington post interviewed the site's founder here.)
The anger against CNN started after Chinese netizens discovered that CNN.com had cropped out a group of Tibetan rioters, who appear to be beating somebody up, from the original AFP/Getty Images photo. On the left is the cropped photo, on the right is the original image that Chinese netizens located on the internet:
As Roland Soong points out, CNN.com has quietly gone and replaced the photo in the original story with a new version that includes the mob violence in the background. But of course the old version still lives in the Google cache. He writes: "This is a self-inflicted wound. If CNN believed that it was right in the first place, then it should have stuck to that position. Instead, it surrendered quietly. Not only did this not appease the Chinese netizens, it only made it worse." Roland also links to this forum thread discussing the whole thing, in which one netizen announces that the new "hip phrase" of 2008 is: "做人不能太CNN a person should not be too CNN." As Roland puts it: "This means that a person should not be too shameless and oblivious to the truth." Roland also quotes from an Associated Press article which reports:
CNN's bureau in Beijing has been deluged in recent days by a barrage of harassing phone calls and faxes that accuse the organization of unfair coverage. An e-mail to United Nations-based reporters purportedly from China's U.N. mission sent an Internet link to a 15-minute state television program showing Tibetans attacking Chinese in Lhasa.
A slideshow posted on YouTube accused CNN, Germany's Der Spiegel and other media of cropping pictures to show Chinese military while screening out Tibetan rioters, or putting pictures of Indian and Nepalese police wrestling Tibetan protesters with captions about China's crackdown.
Though of uncertain origin, the piece at least had official blessing, with excerpts appearing on the official English-language China Daily and on state TV.
Many of the examples of Western media anti-China bias posted at anti-cnn.com hone in on a series of agency photos that ran in various Western news outlets which were mislabeled as Chinese police arresting Tibetan protesters, when they are actually Nepalese or Indian police arresting exiled Tibetan protesters. Roland has been tirelessly documenting the conversation about the Tibet riots taking place on the Chinese Internet. He points out that RTL news in Germany has apologized for mis-reporting Nepali police violence as Chinese police violence, and that German station NTV is reviewing its coverage after similar mistakes appeared in their broadcasts. Also be sure to read Roland's post When Helping Becomes Hurting to see how Western protests are playing not only in China but amongst many Chinese around the world, who have unfettered access to Western media from outside the "Great Firewall."
Meanwhile with videos such as "Riot in Tibet: True face of Western media" and "Tibet Was, Is and Always Will be a Part of China" getting over 700 thousand and a million views, respectively, at the time of this writing, YouTube has been unblocked in China, though as the Shanghaiist points out access can be shaky at times. The BBC English-language website is also generally unblocked.
Perhaps the Chinese government is feeling a little less worried lately about losing public support? Perhaps they are less worried that people will turn against the Communist Party after reading something in the Western media, now that it is no longer fashionable in many circles to believe what the Western media reports?
It is also worth pointing out that alternative views - though not as loud - do exist in Chinese cyberspace. Lian Yue wrote the other day that the only way to prevent more violence is to allow the press to freely report in Tibet. Memedia also points out that some Chinese netizens have been spreading some fake news themselves - such as this blog post claiming that there was recently a Tibetan terrorist bombing in Chengdu, but using victim photos from a 2005 incident in Fuzhou. The Memedia editors observe that the Tibet issue has become like the South China Photographs incident: "An issue that originally is seen through simple logic, but through the course of debating it people start considering much deeper questions."
Hopefully most of China's netizens will draw the obvious conclusion: that in the end you shouldn't trust any information source - Western or Chinese, professional or amateur, digital or analog - until and unless they have earned your trust.
Addendum: Somebody e-mailed me this report from the Toronto Star containing chilling eyewitness accounts from Canadian tourists who were in Lhasa for the worst of the violence.