Sunday, August 28, 2011

BBC and AFP: No bias here on Chen

I'm sure everyone has heard by now that Chen was acquitted on charges of pillaging the State Funds for personal use. Consider BBC's unbiased report on this.  First the headline:

Taiwan ex-president Chen Shui-bian gets extra jail term

The KMT's English cheerleader in Taiwan, the China Post, headlined Court Cuts Chen's Term to Ten Months. Taiwan News said: Court overturns former leader's conviction. The pro-Beijing WantChinaTimes headlined Ex-president found not guilty of embezzling special state fund. Taiwan's government media organ Central News Agency said: Ex-president found not guilty of embezzling special state fund. AP titled Taiwan court overturns former leader's conviction.

Of course, AFP, whose political sympathies will be well known to readers of my blog, ran Taiwan ex-leader gets additional jail sentence. And BBC ran much the same headline. Hint, hint. Note that the pro-KMT China Times was so disgusted with this verdict that it complained it was unfair and the judiciary had a problem. Everyone else focused on, and reacted to, the fact that he was found innocent of the embezzlement charges. Not BBC and AFP. They appeared to choose the most anti-Chen spin possible: he got an extra jail term.

BBC wrote in its opening paragraph:
Taiwan's ex-President Chen Shui-bian - who is already in jail for corruption - has been given an additional sentence for money-laundering and forgery.
I especially like the caption for the photo that accompanied the story. "Chen angered Beijing during his eight years in office by pushing for Taiwan's independence".  BBC always reports that Chen angered Beijing -- it also says so in the article, repetition that is sheer waste. Why not a neutral caption like "Chen waves to supporters" which simply describes what is going on?

AFP was even worse. Here are the four sentences it uses to describe the court's action:
Taiwan's former president Chen Shiu-bian, already jailed for bribery, was sentenced Friday to an additional two years and 10 months on separate charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

Chen, who headed the island's government between 2000 and 2008, is serving a jail term of 17 years and six months on two bribery convictions in a sprawling corruption case that saw his wife Wu Shu-chen get the same sentence.

The high court on Friday sentenced the couple to an extra two years for money laundering, and ordered them to return $6.8 million and Tw$100 million they had pocketed in domestic and overseas deals.

It also handed down a 10-month sentence for forgery in a case related to embezzlement of state funds.
Even the BBC piece admits further down that he was found innocent of the embezzlement charge. But the AFP report simply omits the key fact that almost everyone else placed at the center of their story: Chen was acquitted of embezzlement of the special state funds on retrial.

No bias there!

The "documents forgery" of the BBC and "forgery" of the AFP report refer to the conviction for "forged" receipts. Originally the regulations did not require that the President submit receipts for use of the state funds. After Chen became President, the rules were changed. Naturally, since the slush fund was used for all sorts of secret stuff, the receipts were not kosher. Do spies and diplomats give receipts?

None of the international media reports I've seen on the Chen case, when they refer to the bribery charge, have reported that the Koo family testified in May in court that prosecutors had coerced the testimony on the bribery case. Have I misunderstood that? Did this event not occur? (report).

At present, as I recall, Chen is in prison on the charge of accepting bribes from Diana Chen to make her chief administrator of Taipei 101, for money laundering, for receipt forgery, and for the land corruption case involving the Koos. Anything else? I mean besides being pro-Taiwan.
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Anonymous said...

"Ex-president found not guilty of embezzling special state fund. "

What? And maddog says Ma and the KMT owns the court?

Must have consumed madcow?


Herman said...

"Why not a neutral caption like 'Chen waves to supporters' which simply describes what is going on?"

Can the pressure of drawing readership be a factor?

In one scene of a movie, the Kevin Spacey's character watched his editor boss waving a latest semi-weekly THE SHIPPING NEWS at him. Spacey was new in his job - reporting local events on a small island of Nova Scotia.

"What's this?" The editor shook the paper and demanded. "Heavy clouds are gathering off the coast to the south-east. Rain is likely here tomorrow?'"

"Well, you told me to write local news, but nothing's happening around here. So I wrote about the weather."

"This is weather? I can see it myself, why would I need you to tell me this stuff?"

"What do you want me to write then?"

"You write what you see, but in a way that will interest the readers."


The editor thought for a moment, then raised his cupped hand and slowly swept across an area in front of him.

"You write - 'Imminent Thunderstorm Threatens Coastal Lives!' People will read that."

Now which newspaper can be immune from the pressure of readership and economics?

James said...

Herman got there before me.

It is about readers and - sorry Mike - for someone who spends a good deal of time engaging in media analysis you don't seem to get some of the fundamentals of things like decent caption-writing.

In my experience, there's a bit of a transatlantic split on this. It depends on the nature of the piece and whether or not the photo really needs explaining but the 'sheer waste' is to explain something that, as Spacey's editor has it 'I can see for myself'.

A pic should tell the story and I find captions with background, tangential asides and irreverent humour (in, say, a sports piece or entertainment/humour column)much better.

As soon as I see 'a neutral caption like "Chen waves to supporters" which simply describes what is going on?' I think: crap subs/boring housestyle.

I don't get why the BBC would be biased by the way. Surely they are just not doing a great job.

You should seriously tout yourself to one of these organisations as a cross-strait expert, btw.

Michael Turton said...

As soon as I see 'a neutral caption like "Chen waves to supporters" which simply describes what is going on?' I think: crap subs/boring housestyle.

That was just a suggestion. But at least it is not politically slanted like the BBC piece.


Michael Turton said...

Thanks, James, for the high compliment.

Michael Turton said...

Also, I should add that the issue is that each time they mention or show Chen, they say he "angered Beijing." It's their Formula for Chen. If they had said in their caption "Chen is from a small southern farming community" or "Chen sought more open government" or "Chen's support of democracy angered Beijing" that would be ok. It's the constant reiteration of a particularly slanted formula.