Western media have often been criticized for being too "negative" in their reporting on China. A new study analyzes the coverage of China in German media during the year 2008.
German media often highlight the plight of persecuted Chinese dissidents such as Hu Jia
German media devote a lot of attention to China. There are many German correspondents in China, and their reporting is much more diverse than what is written or broadcast in German media about many other countries. They cover not only politics, but also culture and of course business. But a new study published by Germany's Heinrich Boell Foundation has found that they tend to look at China from the perspective of German interests in the country.
German media devote a lot of space to China
"How do German politicians position themselves? How do German business leaders view China? It's all very much focused on that," says Carola Richter, one of the authors. "And it gets overlooked that there are also certain players in China who could be interviewed, who have certain interests. So this turns more into reporting on a domestic debate rather than on foreign affairs."
Viewing China as a rival
The study's authors argue that due to this, reporters often miss the chance to present new perspectives to their audience. They say that the perception of China as a competitor has become so widespread in the West that many journalists also follow this pattern. Kai Hafez from Erfurt University, who also contributed to the study, quotes the example of China's Africa policy which is regularly criticized in German media for propping up dictatorial regimes.
Prof. Kai Hafez
"The question is whether the same standards are applied here, whether we are not being careless in condemning Chinese foreign policy when our own foreign policy is questionable as well," says Hafez. "I remember times in the seventies or eighties when criticism of the global system and self-criticism were probably more wide-spread than they are today. After the iron curtain's downfall in 1989 we've somewhat developed a habit to believe that Western democracies are the center of political progress."
No 'conspiracy' against China
Not all German journalists were happy about the analysis. But Sven Hansen, who heads the Asia desk at the Berlin daily "tageszeitung", says it is good that such studies are being done.
Some Chinese observers have held Chancellor Angela Merkel responsible for negative reporting on China
And he points out that some of the findings are quite positive. "Some Chinese government officials have accused German journalists that we have become negative in our reporting on China ever since Ms. Merkel became chancellor - charges which I find totally absurd. This study has found that there is no such 'conspiracy' by German media."
Journalists face difficulties
But Hansen also calls some of the experts' suggestions naive: "I find demands for more background reporting banal to some extent. Of course they are right, but the whole trend is that media houses are cutting down on their coverage of foreign affairs. And also longer formats, where there would be space for more background information, are being abolished."
Hansen adds that he could understand some of the protests by Chinese students in Germany, who took to the streets in 2008 against superficial Western reporting on Tibet; but he thinks the Chinese government is to blame, too, because it keeps denying Western reporters access to the restive region.
Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Disha Uppal