“We used to ask Western, even American journalists, to come and teach our budding newsmen and women because we believed that they were the ones who hold best to the freedom of the press. After seeing what happened with the press during the Iraq war, our beliefs were shattered.”
– Somsanouk Mixay, Vice-President,
Lao Journalists Association
The event may have been titled “East Asia Journalists Forum,” but when the talk turned to the American media, the event’s initials – EAJF –could have stood for “Enumerating American Journalism’s Failures.”
During our South Korean visit, we heard plenty of criticism of the American news media – in official conference sessions, in smaller group discussions and during visits with Korean media leaders. Among the complaints:
• From Lim Sin-Chin of Singapore’s National Union of Journalists: While coverage of the military action in Iraq has been factual and accurate, the American media has failed to adequately question the Bush administration’s justification for war or explain the dangers of pre-emptive military action.
• From Liu Dongkai of China’s Xinhua News Agency: American journalists fail to understand issues and sometimes show a bias reflecting American interests or wishes. Liu specifically criticized American coverage of monetary issues involving the value of China’s currency.
• From Chang Dae-whan, executive chairman of Seoul’s “Maeil Business Newspaper”: American media have become more “hawkish” and “emotional” in their coverage in recent months. One of Chang’s editorial board members, J.W. Nam, added that American journalists should consider the effect (especially the negative impact) their reporting or editorial opinions might have on investment in South Korea.
Several of the people we met complained about “parachute journalism” in Asia, especially the American tendency to use Japan as a base of operations. Koreans in particular feel slighted. At the Maeil newspaper, both Nam and Chang pointed out South Korea’s role as a friendly and strategically located ally, arguing that media companies should take that relationship into consideration.
Asian delegates also worried that American news outlets such as CNN have too much sway in Asia. Kim In-Kyu, one of South Korea’s most respected senior journalists, spoke of the need for a new broadcast outlet for pan-Asian news, delivered to Asians by Asians, a concept that resonated with other delegates.
Were our Asian counterparts angry at us? On the contrary, some delegates were even more blunt when speaking of their own governments or of the political sins of their Asian neighbors. Were all of their complaints valid? That’s fodder for another discussion. However, whether or not we agree with their complaints or their suggestions for improvement, we shouldn’t ignore their underlying message: they expect more of American journalism. And they challenged us to deliver.
Ian Marquand is special projects coordinator for the Montana Television Network.