Lying dissident Web sites

ESWN raises a pointed question, inspired by an idiotic report on an extremist anti-China site of how China is murdering anti-Japanese protestors. Here’s the question:

I wondered why does the Chinese-interested blogosphere takes such pleasure in going after the official Chinese media but ignore the lies that appear on the so-called ‘dissident’ websites? This is a subject that no one wants to deal with. This is the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend and I would not want to criticize them, so I’ll pretend that I don’t know enough” syndrome.

I am going to give a short answer to this, as I am at work. I have made a habit of always ignoring these “dissident websites” as they are usually pure nonsense. I thought it was universally understood that Epoch Times, for example, was so rabidly, obsessively anti-CCP that for me to quote from them would make me look like a dupe and a fool. I have never quoted from Taipei Times either, as I find they are so one-sided and devoid of reason or fairness that they cannot be trusted.

So why go after China Daily and not Taipei Times? I can only speak for myself here: From my perspective, everyone with minimal gray matter knows Epoch Times and the like cannot be trusted or looked on as serious news sources. But a lot of people in China look at China Daily as a very serious news source, and many in their forums have swallowed the party BS hook, line and sinker. And these publications have huge influence and readership.

If I ever thought Epoch Times or the dissident Web site to which ESWN allude were having an impact or actually fashioning public opinion I would speak out in a heartbeat. But for now, I see them the same way I see astroturf groups in the US, churning out issue papers a mile a minute, none of them very reasonable or based on fact. They are on the fringe, and I have zero reason to read them, let alone pay them the honor of blogging about them.

China Daily is not on the fringe and is part of my daily reading, as it reflects the mentality of many people in China and is a communications tool of the CCP. So I read it, and when it strikes me supremely outrageous I blog about it (though I haven’t done so at all in recent months).

Update: I just scrolled down past the Chinese part of ESWN’s post and see he rephrases his question:

Do you think any country should allow such lies to be promulgated freely in what appears to be traditional news media? While it is common to say that the eyes of masses are bright as snow and will see through these kinds of lies, is it worth taking risk that some citizens might buy into it? Do you think it is right for some citizens to start believing that anti-Japanese patriotic citizens are being slaughtered by their government? If you believe that the reporting is false, then will you accept that the government is right to ban access to such websites?

The answer is that it’s dead wrong to print such lies. If I came across this type of rubbish, I would strongly condemn it. I don’t accept that the government has the right to ban it since it is false, but in a case like this I can at least understand why they’d want to ban it. But this leads us back to the whole pot/kettle argument: Remember those phony newscasts in 2003 when CCTV interviewd happy tourists going to Guangzhou “now that SARS has been totally eliminated in China”? Blatant lies are no stranger to the Chinese media.

As to whether we want Chinese believing the CCP is murdering anti-Japanese protestors — of course not, there’s a lot of nonsense on the Internet. Hopefully people will be smart enough to separate fact from fantasy, but that’s always a risk with the Internet, by its very nature.

If the CCP or any other censorious government blocked only such fantastical, crazed dissident sites while permitting the BBC and uncensored CNN newscasts, I would be far less bent out of shape over censorship in China. Singapore blocks lots of magazines and censors its movies and would probably even consider blocking a dissident site like this were it directed at Singapore. It would be unfortunate but tolerable. Sadly, China takes such a draconian, take-no-prisoners approach, blocking all blogspot sites, for example, and so many sites of great value and legitimacy. So as it stands, their censorship policy is unacceptable and unjustifiable.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

i also disagree with eswn, but not just because the chinese authorities would be hypocritical blocking false news.

free access to news is important to a healthy news market. otherwise, these banned sites garner cache. for example, in the united states, nobody pays attention to whacko conspiracy theory sites, and if any site published such stories, they would lose credibility.

it’s the same argument as for legalizing recreational drugs. the same thing has been said about control of religious cults in china. because such cults are banned, along with orthodox christian groups, it creates an dangerous atmosphere. the washpost or nytimes had an article about this a few months ago, but i’ve heard the idea elsewhere.

in a free market of ideas, crazy news has little value. in a soviet-style market of ideas, even outrageous dissidents like jiao guobiao get headlines.

May 4, 2005 @ 8:53 am | Comment

TS, very intelligent points. It’s so true, that controlling the news and banning lunatic sites only gives them an odd legitimacy.

May 4, 2005 @ 9:24 am | Comment

When China acts so hard to gover up certain truths, you begin to wonder if something is true just because it is banned.

It is the same with rumors, the more you deny them, the more they spread. In fact one of the tricks of a good propogandarist is to spread a rumor by announcing publicly that it is not true.

If Chen were to suddenly go on TV and announce that rumors of an iminant Chinese invasion were false, it would start a mass panic.

May 4, 2005 @ 7:55 pm | Comment

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