(*The authors’ opinions expressed in this article do not represent the position of FLIA or FLIA’s research team.)
A Comparative Study of Chinese and Non-Chinese Media Reporting on the term “Xinjiang Genocide”
Author: Feier Ma
Nowadays, the term “Xinjiang Genocide” is a hotly debated searching topic on the international stage. Numerous non-Chinese media tell stories that accuse China of the treatment of Uygur Muslims in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, deeming it as “genocide”, which is defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such”.
However, Chinese media tell the “Xinjiang Genocide” story to its domestic audience in a totally different way, which is about “anti-China westerners trying to attack China with lies”.
To examine and understand the difference between Chinese and non-Chinese media reporting on “Xinjiang Genocide”, I researched “Xinjiang Genocide” on the Chinese major search engine Baidu and the non-China major search engine Google on May 7, 2021. Then, I analyzed the first 30 entries of each search engine.
Overview of Media Reporting on Two Sides
Among the 30 entries which popped up under the search of “Xinjiang Genocide” in the Chinese search engine Baidu, 17 are official news reports and 13 are unofficial websites, including social media site (Xinlang), communication platforms (Zhihu, Douban, Pipaxia, Fengwen), and embassy website (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Federal Republic of Germany).
As for the 17 official news media, all of them deny “genocide” in Xinjiang, which shows the uniformity of Chinese media’s viewpoint.
Aiming to firmly oppose the allegation of Xinjiang “genocide” from non-China media, Chinese media provide various evidence in official news.
In total, two types of evidence are used, population growth in Xinjiang and witnesses.
Population growth is used in non-China media to oppose the allegation of the Chinese Government preventing births of Uyghurs .
According to 12 out of the 17 news reports from official media, annual population growth in the Xinjiang region has been as high as 25%, from approximately 5 million to 12 million in the past 40 years.
The two witnesses are a cotton farmer and a woman director of a village in Xinjiang. The cotton farmer’s testimony denies the allegation of forced labor in Xinjiang from non-Chinese media, claiming that cotton farmers ‘have their own cotton land, do labor for themselves, and make their own money”.
Another witness is a woman director of a village, who claims that it’s fake news that vocational camps are “concentration camps ” that torture people.
In contrast, she states that “vocational camp saves me from the cliff”. Neither of the witnesses is anonymous.
Finally, the 17 official Chinese news reports share three characteristics – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is mentioned 12 times, the European massacre of indigenous people in the Americas is brought up six times, and the term “anti-Chinese people” is used six times.
Using Google as the search engine, the first 30 entries consist of 17 official non-China news media, six official Chinese news media, five unofficial media, and four advertisements.
The five unofficial media include two non-profit organizations, one non-governmental organization, an encyclopedia, and a video channel. Although they come up in a search of the topic “Xinjiang Genocide”, they’re not taken into consideration in this article.
Among the 21 official news media, 17 are produced by non-Chinese media, while the other six are produced by Chinese media.
While all six official news reports produced by Chinese media deny genocide, the viewpoints of the 17 non-Chinese news reports differ. The number of news reports that accuse the Chinese of genocide is two times the ones that deny it.
Meanwhile, five reports show no viewpoints, but maintain a neutral position.
Under the topic “genocide”, eight themes are brought up in the 17 non-Chinese news, among them the most mentioned one is “camp”, referring to “detention camp” or “concentration camp”.
Shown in the table, birth control, forced labor, and mental and physical torture are also hotly debated themes. Non-Chinese news media also use numerous evidence to support their viewpoints, either posing allegations, denial, or staying neutral. Statistically, half of the evidence is from anonymous sources.
Examining Media Reporting on Two Sides
Angle 1: Source
According to my statistical analysis of the 30 entries in non-Chinese media, half of the evidence used is anonymous (shown in the chart above).
In many cases, due to “fear of reprisal”, many news reports do not disclose the names of their sources or make up fake names for their sources.
For example, in the article, The US says China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs. Here’s some of the most chilling evidence,produced by USA Today, six out of the ten cited sources of evidence are from anonymous sources.
These sources include several witnesses whose names are not shown but simply summarized as “a detainee”, “one camp guard”, etc.
In the New York Times article, One Woman’s Journey Through Chinese Atrocities, the witnesses’ names are also fake names, which are “Nancy” and “her relatives”. Besides the names of the witnesses, documents that are claimed to be solid evidence are also anonymous.
Among the 17 official non-Chinese news reports, phrases like “leaked data”, “a similar document”, and “leaked document”, are frequently brought up as sources of evidence.
According to Sage Journals’ Anonymous sources harm the credibility of all stories, the use of anonymous sources negatively affects a story’s credibility. Thus, while anonymity to protect witnesses from being harmed is understandable, this action largely lowers the credibility of the reports, since their sources are unidentified and can be random.
In Chinese official news reports, all evidence cited is not anonymous, including the names of the witnesses and the source of the statistics.
However, among all 17 official news reports of the 30 entries, only two witnesses’ testimonies are used as evidence.
The number of witnesses’ stories is too few to make the Chinese news reports strong and convincing.
Moreover, population growth is used 12 times in the news reports; the uniformity of the evidence of Chinese mainstream news media also lowers the strength of the arguments and the credibility of their denials.
Angle 2: Balance
Of the 17 non-Chinese news reports, the viewpoints of the media differ, according to my statistical analysis (shown in the table above).
The balanced number of neutral viewpoints, ones that think “Genocide” is unjustified and ones that call for “Genocide”, indicates the objectivity of the overall non-Chinese media.
Moreover, individually, non-Chinese news reports all provide both their own arguments and viewpoints of China through quoting statements from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Chinese news media.
By official definition of objectivity, it helps the audience make up their own mind about a story, providing the facts alone and then letting the audience interpret them on their own. Non-Chinese media undoubtedly achieved its objectivity.
When it comes to Chinese news media, all 17 news reports deny “Xinjiang Genocide”, strongly suggesting the bias of the Chinese news media.
Analyzing the content of all these news reports individually, the bias remains the same.
Take the allegation of birth control for example. Non-Chinese news media often take the lower birth rate and rising sterilization rate in Xinjiang as supporting evidence. Instead of directly facing these two facts, Chinese news reports choose to focus only on population growth and economic growth in Xinjiang to support their denial.
All in all, compared to non-Chinese news media, Chinese news media is less objective in general.
To conclude, based on my content analysis and statistical analysis of the 30 entries from Baidu and 30 entries from Google under the topic “Xinjiang Genocide” on July 5, 2021, it is shown that Chinese news media and non-Chinese news media differs a lot both in their viewpoints and their reporting of news.
When it comes to sources of evidence, non-Chinese media offer a considerable proportion of anonymous sources, while Chinese media’s sources are scarce and unitary.
In the case of objectivity, non-Chinese media is unbiased both overall and individually; nonetheless, Chinese media is comparatively more biased.