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Saturday, October 14, 2006


BBC Taiwan Coverage: Pathetically Biased

The international media typically does spotty work on Taiwan, but the BBC definitely stands out for poor writing on happenings on the Beautiful Isle. The BBCs coverage is looking more like Xinhua's then the work of a democratic media writing from a democratic standpoint; it is, at the moment, to the right of even the local pro-Blue Chinese papers.

The reason for BBC's astonishing and unblushing pro-Blue stance may lie reside in the fact that the BBC's local partner is the cable news channel CTI, which is profoundly pro-Blue, and has been showing the protests 24/7 on its channel. CTI was purchased by the China Times, the local KMT Chinese-language paper, in 2002. Whatever the reason, it is absolutely unacceptable that a major international media organization has become so biased.

The two most recent articles, one covering the October 10 mess; the other the recent and failed second recall motion for President Chen dated yesterday, October 13, contain much of the same erroneous information, impoverished understanding of the situation, and ineptitude that have characterized BBC's reports since the beginning of the protests last month. Consider the most recent one on the recall motion:

Troubled leader

The allegations against Mr Chen started in May when his son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, was detained and later charged with insider trading.

Other allegations followed, against the president, his family and close aides. Mr Chen himself was questioned in August over alleged misuse of funds, but prosecutors have yet to release the findings of their investigation.

The president has apologised for this son-in-law's actions, but denies any personal wrongdoing and has refused to resign.

Both pretinent facts and key context are missing: the BBC article does not note that the investigation has already cleared his wife, nor does it note that there is no evidence the President has done anything wrong. The BBC then goes on to write:

Friday's bill, submitted to parliament by People First Party legislator Lu Hsue-chang, said Mr Chen lacked the ability to govern, and accused him of corruption.

The BBC again fails to provide key context. Imagine if it had added one or two of the following sentences.

Friday's bill, submitted to parliament by People First Party legislator Lu Hsue-chang, said Mr Chen lacked the ability to govern, and accused him of corruption. People's First Party Chairman James Soong, a longtime critic of Chen, was recently given the largest fine ever to a major Taiwan political figure for tax evasion. Soong was a key official in the suppression of democracy under the KMT regime.

The underlying slant is plain: nowhere does anything in the BBC article suggest that this might be a partisan political protest. Instead, it is carefully constructed to give exactly the opposite impression. This might have been acceptable last month, but a number of major international news organizations have had no trouble reporting that the bulk of protesters are pro-Blue, including Keith Bradsher of the New York Times (who got Shih to admit in an interview that the bulk of his protesters were nationalists), Stephan Grauwels of AP, and Kathrin Hille of the Financial Times. Local papers have also noted this, including a nice piece in the Taipei Times a couple of weeks ago on a potential coup here which identified most protesters as New Party members, Deep Blue, by veteran Taiwan observer Bo Tedards.

The October 10th piece from the BBC is by Caroline Gluck, whose work on this issue has been uniformly awful, and this one is no exception. Consider this succession of paragraphs:

He said Taiwan's predicament was similar to the growing pains of other emerging democracies and he said partisan differences should not be allowed to undermine the island's democracy, peace and prosperity.

But as he spoke, opposition legislators and critics in the presidential square began chanting calls for him to step down and some small scuffles broke out.

It was clearly an embarrassing moment for President Chen, who was addressing foreign delegates and government officials.

Was it an embarrassing moment for Chen? Well the foreign dignataries, some of whose vehicles were attacked by the protesters -- a detail left out of the BBC piece -- seemed to feel that the nation and the protesters embarrassed themselves. Indeed, the US representative rebuked PFP Chairman James Soong's outburst -- both outburst and rebuke go unmentioned in the BBC's piece. As Feiren notes below, some of the Blue papers seem to feel the Blues' behavior to be an embarrassment to themselves. All of the Green papers felt the protesters had embarrassed themselves. Gluck could have approached that in several ways: the BBC could have noted that it was an embarrassing moment without assigned the embarrassment to anyone, or simply reported what had happened without mentioning that it was embarrassing. Instead, it constructs the event in an anti-Chen manner. Clearly Gluck has very serious problems both with understanding what is going on in Taiwan and in presenting it in an evenhanded manner.

She began the article with:

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have been surrounding the presidential office in Taiwan, calling on President Chen Shui-bian to step down.

The mass action took place as the president took part in a ceremony marking Taiwan's National Day.

The crowds wore red T-shirts to symbolise public anger over corruption scandals surrounding the president's aides and family.

Again, not even the merest hint that the protests are partisan political protests aimed at destabilizing the government and bringing down an elected President by extralegal means. There is nothing here to disturb the image of "popular" protests -- apparently Gluck has been unable to discover what has been in the AP, the NY Times, the Financial Times, and hundreds of blogs and blogposts on the island. Gluck also does not give the Taipei Police estimate of 120,000 -- the idea of "hundreds of thousands" has appeared only in the pro-Blue media. Gluck simply regurgitates pro-Blue claims without the slightest contextualization.

It goes without saying that neither of the articles has a "Comments" section appended to the bottom. I guess they don't feel like being publicly and decisively corrected....I'll be writing them later, though apparently it hasn't done a lick of good. Anyone have an email for Gluck?

For Christmas, I'd like a significant upgrade in the BBC's balance....


At 12:28 PM, Blogger Michael Turton said...

Found her email, never mind.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger STOP Ma said...

Great post, Michael! Very interesting connection you've shown us with the BBC / pro-blue media in Taiwan. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the BBC has been getting more and more sloppy with their reporting with all world issues over recent years. I have lost a lot of respect for this organization and continue to do so when I see articles like the one you have mentioned. Thank goodness for the internet & blogs!!


Bloomberg.com had an equally pro-blue biased article on the vote yesterday entitled,

"Taiwan's Chen Survives Lawmakers' Second Attempt to Oust Him"

In it you will find this quote from a KMT official without any rebut from a DPP member:

``This proves the DPP has become a party supporting corruption,'' said KMT spokesman Huang Yu-cheng in a telephone interview after the vote. ``The KMT strongly denounces the DPP's lack of self-review capability.''

You'll also find this FACTUAL LIE:

Since Sept. 9, demonstrations have been held across Taiwan to demand he step down, with a rally on Oct. 10 drawing several hundred thousand people, according to police.

After sending Hong Kong reporter James Peng an email pointing out the factual errors and bias in this article, I received an immediate reply.

He said that this "several hundred thousand" figure was confirmed by Taipei police.

I sent them another email, after doing some research, and pointed out to him that Bloomberg IS THE ONLY NEWS ORGANIZATION stating that the Taipei police have estimated the October 10th crowd at "several hundred thousand". Check it out yourselves, folks. No other news organization states this -- INCLUDING THE CHINESE STATE MEDIA. I also asked James Peng to provide me with a name of the Police official that gave him this estimate.

I never received a follow-up reply from James Peng nor was there any correction made to this article.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Raj said...

Why don't you just e-mail the BBC and pointed out the discrepancies. A lot of people that write the articles are monkeys. If you insist other pieces of information be added (politely) they often will - I've got it done with other foreign articles.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Tim Maddog said...

Raj, thanks for the suggestion, but believe me, we have written to the BBC, and their replies are very empty. Below are links to my and Michael's earlier posts on their mendacious coverage of Taiwan.

September 11, 2006:
* BBC gets Taiwan all wrong
September 13, 2006:
* BBC angers all who care about Taiwan
September 15, 2006:
* BBC still not getting Taiwan right
September 17, 2006:
* BBC continues Taiwan deception
October 1, 2006:
* BBC strikes again

Does it look like things are improving? I think not. If the public doesn't know any better, they'll simply trust the news. That's where we step in (whenever possible) -- to let you know when you're being lied to or simply not getting the whole picture.

Tim Maddog

At 11:49 PM, Blogger Michael Turton said...

Why don't you just e-mail the BBC and pointed out the discrepancies. A lot of people that write the articles are monkeys. If you insist other pieces of information be added (politely) they often will - I've got it done with other foreign articles.

Raj, I've written them innumerable times, with facts neatly and politely laid out. I've made headway with most other organizations, but the BBC seems impervious to evidence and logic.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger Poseidon206 said...

Thanks Michael for another great post... Is it time to start a campaign to "depose/oust Gluck"? :P Just kidding.

It's quite disgusting to read stories such as this. Like I said before Gluck must have been spoon-fed by blue media. Whatever happened to her ethics for journalism (and the journalism ethics of the entire blue media) is beyong everyone's comprehension...

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

What is Catherine Gluck's e-mail address? I want to e-mail her directly. I've e-mailed the BBC on incorrect facts/omissions/slants in Taiwanese news articles for _years_ and I seem to get nowhere. I've sent them comments, complaints, posted on Have Your Say, submitted to a site where they said the top editors would look at it -- all to no avail!!! I think we should start e-mailing the authors, their bosses, and the editors-in-chief simultaneously. My most recent beef is with their front page article on 228. Great that it made it on the front page, not great that they slanted it to sound like an "uprising" rather than a massacre.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Michael Turton said...



Foreign correspondent addresses are publicly available on the GIO website.

However, if you write to her, it is unlikely that you get a response that acknowledges the issues. The BBC shut down the comments page on the other reports, since it got too many corrections. I used to think writing is helpful, and has been in other cases, but in Gluck's case I don't think it will be much use.



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