Whose News?

Chinese Massacre Fails to Rate

The news media have been buzzing about the latest campus killings in the US. Any loss of life is tragic for any number of reasons, but let me ask a question. What ratio of American to Chinese lives lost under similar circumstances would it take to rate a mention in the world’s English language media? The disturbing answer is 1:1.5, at least.

main-article.jpgThe Hong Kong print version of the China Daily ran this column on the front page of its weekend edition. Six victims in one massacre compared to nine in the other: that’s where the 1:1.5 ratio comes from. But credit should go where credit is due – it’s an interesting juxtaposition because no other English daily cared to run the two stories together. Even the English language version of Beijing’s People’s Daily only reported the Hebei killings as a separate event. Few other dailies could be bothered to run the Chinese story at all. On Friday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Times of India both ran the AFP summary of a Xinhua (China’s national news agency) report on their websites. Reuters had already issued a short report on Thursday, as did Bernama, Malaysia’s news agency, again on Friday.

SCMPA little closer to home, Hong Kong’s main English language daily, the South China Morning Post, captivated by the porn scandal I mentioned previously, relegated a summary of the Reuters report to Saturday’s national ‘In Brief’ section on page 4. Nice effort SCMP, combining relevance with contempt. Like Reuters, the SCMP managed to cover the story without once using the attention-grabbing word ‘massacre’, although it did carry an Associated Press story describing the Illinois killings as a “suicidal rampage”.

Why do Chinese deaths rate less than American deaths by similar means? Part of the problem could be the sheer number of Chinese meeting cruel fates on any given day. But, even so, a family member murdering nine relatives on an important national holiday anywhere else in the world might have a bigger impact.

Perhaps the culprit this time around is America’s macabre romance with the gun, that ‘told you so’ mentality which pushes mass shootings onto the front page because an outdated, inflexible constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms. Nowhere in the Hebei report are guns mentioned.

So the Chinese story can’t cut it on romance, per capita murder infrequency and emotive force. The death relevance ratio I quoted earlier only applies to the China Daily; in wider practice the perceived newsworthiness of mass murders in China is infinitesimally low amongst the English language dailies.

If we could figure out how to change this we might no longer be living in such a puzzling world.

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