Has the Western media's portrayal of unrest in Hong Kong changed?
Keith Lamb

Editor's note: Keith Lamb is a University of Oxford graduate with an MSc degree in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China's international relations and "socialism with Chinese characteristics." The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

When the unrest in Hong Kong started in 2019, Western governments and corporate media showed sympathy and support to the violent protesters.

Chris Patten, the last governor of colonial Hong Kong which was then backed by London's dictate under a racial hierarchy, has always viewed Hong Kong's troubles through the lens of Cold War antagonism. In his view, the UK and all liberal democracies have a right to have a say in Hong Kong's running.

The U.S. has funded protest groups through its front NGO The National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Senior U.S. diplomat Julie Eadeh has even been seen meeting the protest leaders.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) conducted a study of CNN and the New York Times' coverage on the protests in Ecuador, Haiti, Chile, and HKSAR from when the protests started to November 22, 2019. Hong Kong protests had 737 articles compared to a collective 76 articles for the other locations.

FAIR goes on to say, "This enormous disparity cannot be explained by the other protests' size or significance. After barely a week's worth of turmoil, the death toll in Ecuador was eight, while the UN confirms that 42 Haitians have been killed in the last two months alone." Chile has been just as serious, by November 23, 2019, there had been 23 people killed in these protests.

Using the same method as FAIR, I searched for articles relating to the unrest in Chile and Hong Kong from June 1, 2019, to December 8, 2020, on CNN. There were 77 articles about Hong Kong compared to 7 articles about Chile. Only a couple of the stories about Chile were directly about protests. It took a Chilean policeman charged with the attempted murder, of a teenage protester thrown off a bridge, to become newsworthy to CNN.

It is no wonder that China has criticized the West for the hypocritical reaction to Hong Kong protests. Unrest in Hong Kong shut down Hong Kong's economy for nearly a year and caused wanton destruction of public property. During the time, children of policemen being victimized, violent deaths, and an elder being set on fire by protesters, were caught on camera. And yet, Western politicians and media seemed to be far more focused on "championing" democracy.

Photojournalist Dan Criswell walks at the messy campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in Hong Kong, south China. /CGTN Photo

Photojournalist Dan Criswell walks at the messy campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in Hong Kong, south China. /CGTN Photo

With the preponderance of chaos and external interference, China passed the National Security Law for Hong Kong in June 2020. But when the Western media caught wind of the news, they immediately resorted to the Cold-War colonial rhetoric that defined the bygone era.

The New York Times said the law "imposed on Hong Kong, [is] aimed at stamping out opposition to the ruling Communist Party in the former British colony." This highlighting of the Chinese central government's "imposition," juxtaposed with "Hong Kong the former British colony," could almost be satirical and sums up the myriad of contradictions inherent in Western political and corporate media circles.

The Washington Post gave out the most succinct demonstration of West's entrenched logic by calling the law as "nothing less than imperialism with Chinese characteristics."

CNN was quick to criticize the arrests of certain Hong Kong citizens after the passing of the law, such as the owner of the Apple Daily Jimmy Lai, without detailing his suspected collusion with foreign powers and violation of the national security law for HKSAR. 

What's been left out of all Western corporate media reports is any concern for China's sovereignty. They seem to have forgotten that the days of foreigners dictating China's affairs in Hong Kong finished in 1997. Now, Hong Kong, according to its Basic Law, comes "directly under the Central People's Government." As such, while Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy, it isn't independent. Simply put, it is part of one country with two systems.

With China being criticized for its security law and the disproportionate coverage of Hong Kong in the Western corporate media, one would assume this same media upholds similar standards for itself in the West. However, the large protests taking place across France against France's security laws in early December 2020 received little to no attention from CNN or the New York Times. This was despite the looting of banks, cars being set on fire and 68 police officers being injured.

Obviously, little has changed in the western media's reporting. And from what has happened, it seems that Western corporate media's effort to delegitimize China's system and infringe on its sovereignty will continue. Most likely, it will disguise its concerns as being for the cause of liberty and freedom all the while ignoring the truth across the globe and at home.

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