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February 14 2014

Chinese Singletons Snatch Up Cinema Seats to Sabotage Valentine's Day Dates

Every year before Valentine's Day, a mischievous online group known as the “Damn Lovers” has mobilized its members to buy odd-numbered movie tickets in a bid to ruin the romance for couples who want to sit together.

This year, they finally succeeded in occupying every other seat in at least one cinema in Shanghai during the Valentine's Day primetime movie screening.

In China, Valentine's Day is rather special this year as it overlaps with Lantern Festival, or Yuan Xiao Jie, a festival which debuted during the Qin Dynasty around 200 BC during which single people would hung around in the streets under the lantern light with the hope of finding love.

The story about single netizens occupied Valentine's Day theatre prime time show was reported by local newspapers. Image circulated widely online. (via ChinaSMACK)

The story about single netizens occupying alternating seats in a movie theater during a Valentine's Day primetime show was reported by local newspapers. Image circulated widely online. (via ChinaSMACK)

As singles in recent years gained more visibility and power via the Internet and the modern invention Singles Day, a collective of singles called “Damn Lovers” (情侶去死去死團)or “Damn Love” (戀愛去死去死團)emerged among Chinese communities in China and Taiwan in 2005. The group belongs to the Kuso Internet culture, which relishes campy or outrageous content. According to Chinese Wikipedia:

去死去死團號稱「對抗『戀愛資本主義』社會風氣」,以「破壞浪漫氣氛」為目的。許多民眾以為它是社會上的激進運動團體,但去死團的多數活動只是以一種戲謔方式,用KUSO、搞笑和幽默的風格表達單身的孤單,亦有人藉此表示單身也可以很快樂,並且反對「商業化」的慶祝方式。在各種節日,譬如聖誕節或情人節,可提供一種有別於浪漫過節的消遣管道。
參與去死團活動的人被稱為奉行去死去死團精神或死死精神、死死主義。創團宗旨是:「我們獨善其身,為的是要渡化那些誤入歧途的情侶們。」

The Damn Love group claimed that they wanted to resist the culture of ‘love capitalism’ by ruining the ‘romantic atmosphere'. While some may think that it is a radical organization, but most of its activities are just for fun in the [Japanese] Kuso style to give a platform to the lonely feelings of singles. Some members want to broadcast the message that you can be single and happy or that they are against commercial styles of celebration. Thus, they want to create an alternative way of celebrating festivals such as the Valentine's Day and the Christmas. Members who participate in Damn Love activities have to uphold the spirit of ‘to be damned’ or ‘damnism'. The mission of the group is: ‘we are singles and devoted to save those who are trapped in relationships”.

In the past few years, the group usually spread their messages online using darkly humorous cartoons and stories. For example, the song, “Wish all the lovers turned out to be long lost brothers and sisters” by band “Good Sister” was a big hit last year's Valentine's Day:

The song takes reference from a modern Chinese play, “Lei Yu” meaning thunderstorm to curse Valentine's Day. The tragic love story of “Thunderstorm” depicts two lovers who have overcome family pressure to be together but who turn out to be long lost brother and sister. The first half of the song's lyrics goes:

今天是2月14,傳說中的情人節
滿大街的男男女女,都要在今天晚上過節。
平時買的玫瑰花是兩塊錢一朵
今天晚上要翻上十倍,姑娘還是樂歪了嘴
今天是2月14,傳說中的情人節
我打算回家一個人呆著,沒事看書吃泡面
可有個傻B在QQ問我,你怎麼還是一個人
我忍不住地對他喊出這樣親切的慰問
(祝天下所有的情侶都是失散多年的兄妹
祝你今天晚上的電影院和餐館,全都沒座位
祝天下所有的情侶都是失散多年的兄妹
不管是莫泰如家7天漢庭,全都訂不到床位

Today is February 14, the legendary Valentine's Day
Boys and girls in the streets are enjoying the festival
A rose costs about 2 yuan on an ordinary day
Today it is 10 times more expensive, but the girls still wear such a happy smile on their faces.
Today is February 14, the legendary Valentine's Day
My plan is to go home, read and eat instant noodles
But a f**king [instant messaging] QQ user asks me why I am alone
I can't help but send him this warm regard:
I wish all the lovers in the world are long lost brothers and sisters
I wish all the cinemas, restaurants are full tonight
I wish all the lovers in the world are long lost brothers and sisters
And all the beds in [hotels] Mo Tai, Home Inn, 7-days, Han Ting are occupied.

For 2014, single netizens decided to move beyond spoofs into action. So far, they have been successful in occupying one cinema in Shanghai. According to Shanghai Morning Post (via ChinaSMACK), one of the organizers of the occupation said that many of those who participated did so wanting to meet new friends, hoping to turn a “prank” into a “blind date”.

Of course, the lovers are also fighting back. Many are saying that they are happy to share just one seat.

February 13 2014

Self-Censorship in Hong Kong Claims Another Popular Radio Host

China is ranked 175 while Hong Kong is ranked 61 in the freedom of press index 2014 released by Reporters without Border.

China is ranked 175th while Hong Kong is ranked 61st in the World Press Freedom Index 2014 released by Reporters Without Borders.

“Hong Kong's media independence is now in jeopardy”, Reporters Without Borders pointed out in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The conclusion echoes the Committee to Protect Journalists’ special report on the practice of self-censorship in Hong Kong, in which Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo commented:

Self-censorship – it's like the plague, a cancerous growth, multiplying on a daily basis […] In Hong Kong, media organizations are mostly owned by tycoons with business interests in China. They don't want to lose advertising revenue from Chinese companies and they don't want to anger the central government.

In the past ten years, a large number of newspapers columnists, editors, radio and television talk show hosts have been sacked because of their critical stance towards the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. The situation has worsened in the past two years, thanks to the new leadership of Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) adoption of a hardline position on “ideological battle”, which upped the political pressure on media organizations in Hong Kong. The political interference is exercised through replacement of senior news editors and the withdrawal of advertisements by pro-Beijing corporates.

The latest example of the poor state of affairs is Commercial Radio Hong Kong (CRHK), which sacked its most popular radio host, Lee Wai-ling, on February 12, 2014 without providing any reason. Back in November last year, Lee was forced to switch from a morning program to an evening program under the excuse of program improvement. Despite the pressure, she vowed to keep her voice heard over the radio. But now she has been silenced, as depicted by Lam Sui-bun's political cartoon.

Ng Chi-sum, a former phone-in host for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), whose contract was discontinued in 2011 in spite of his popularity, pointed out that such “program rearrangements” are a kind of political punishment and humiliation. He shared his experience:

2004年我從香港電台早上烽煙調到黃昏,類似理由,聽過很多了。香港人收聽台的習慣,晨早上班前是黃金時段,聽眾最多,影響力最大,是兵家必爭之地。調到黃昏,聽眾立刻減少一半,擺明是要削弱你的影響力,如此調動,對節目主持人是懲罰,甚至是悔辱。
我被調到黃昏節目,絕不好過,為了平衡,他們找了幾個極左派來做我的拍檔,每次做完節目,都筋疲力盡 […] 還有向廣管局和電台的投訴攻勢,長官會不時刻意拿給我看,左派報紙一年五、六十篇的大批判文章,卻不聞不問,不發一言,不澄清不辯駁一個字都不回應。這擺明是要羞辱你,等你頂不住而辭職。

Back in 2004, I was switched from the morning to evening phone-in program at RTHK with similar excuses. Hong Kong residents are used to listening to the radio in the morning before they leave home for work. This is the peak hour with the most listeners and thus has the strongest influence [on public opinion]. It is a time slot that everyone wants to compete for. The switch will cut the audience by half and so is a move to reduce your influence. It is a punishment or even a humiliation for the host.

Political Cartoon by Lam Shui-bun.

Political cartoon depicting sacked radio host Lee Wai-ling. By Lam Shui-bun.

After I was moved to the evening, to balance the pro-Beijing voices of my co-host, I was extremely exhausted. […] In addition, I had to face all manners of complaints and attacks. My boss would hand me the articles written by the pro-Beijing newspapers to me. They published 50-60 articles within one year to discredit me. But my boss never spoke up to defend me. All these gestures are to humiliate you and to force you to resign.

Chan King-fai, a current affair commentator, observed that the political tolerance of the Beijing government has continued to shrink to the extent that even moderate critical voices have to be eliminated:

李小姐絕非火爆主持,而是擅長提問、「收風」和拆局,相比10 年前「青筋暴現」的名嘴,溫和太多了吧。同一份落差和驚訝也曾發生在較早之前,即吳志森被港台「封咪」之際:與之前的名嘴相比,「吳志森」猶如謙謙君子。但今天,隨着標準不斷滑落,他也成了必須被拔除的「眼中釘」。

Miss Lee is not radical. Her style is to raise questions, present insider views and analyze the political situation. When compared with the “hot-tempered” host ten years ago, she is too moderate. The same fate happened to Ng Chi-sum, who is like a gentleman. However, the standard [for censorship] keeps lowering and they have to be eliminated as well.

Blogger “hkcritics” asked what society could do to defend itself:

換個角度說,就是我不交代,你能把我怎樣﹖這是一個明確的信號-現時社會所有對政府施加的壓力都不能構成威脅。
被看扁了,但我們還有什麼施壓的板斧﹖包圍政總三百六十五日﹖參與佔中﹖李慧玲事件讓我們看到的香港的絕路,或者是一個溫度計,告訴我們溫水煮蛙的年代完結了,水已到沸點,政府可以對鍋裡的青蛙肆意蹂躪了。

To address the issue from another angle, even if I [the commercial radio] do not give any explanation, what can you do? This is a sign – regardless of the pressure that the public imposes on the government, it doesn't constitute a threat.

We are being looked down, what else can we do? Siege the government building for 356 days? Join the occupy central campaign? What we see here is a dead end. The thermometer tells us that the frog is no longer in warm water, the water is boiling and the government can do whatever it wants to the frog.

Lee Wai-ling talked about the political pressure Hong Kong media organization is facing today.

Lee Wai-ling talked about the political pressure Hong Kong media organizations are facing during a press conference.

Sacked radio host Lee Wai-ling believed that the incident is political in nature in a press conference on February 13. According to inmediahk.net's Facebook live-cast, Lee believes that:

她的事並不是單一事件,從《明報》換總編輯、《信報》,到《AM730》及《蘋果》被抽廣告可見。她期望香港人會醒,看清楚外面發生什麼事。今日還沉默的話,明日便會被集體沉默。

What happened to her is not a single issue. It is related to the replacement of Ming Pao's chief editor and Hong Kong Economic Journal's political reporter team, the withdrawal of commercial ads from AM730 and Apple Daily. She hope that Hong Kong people would wake up and see what's happening to the society. If they choose to remain silent today, tomorrow they have no choice but remain silent.

While some suggested that online new media can be an alternative to mainstream media, as big corporates start to withdraw advertising from independent news organizations, whether or not the commercial model of local new media initiatives can survive is in question. As for the voluntary based citizen media model, so far very few have had the resources and organizational backup to produce original news and investigative reports. Once Hong Kong's mainstream and conventional media organizations have fallen, the online media will be further ghettoized and marginalized.

Activists Ask China to Ban Bear Bile Farming

Using social media and other tools, animal rights activists around the world are urging China to prohibit farmers from keeping bears in captivity and harvesting their bile, a digestive juice stored in the gall bladder that is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The nonprofit group Animals Asia has collected more than 83,000 signatures so far on a petition asking Chinese officials to end the “barbaric practice” of bear bile farming. The foundation said more than 10,000 bears in China are kept in cages – sometimes so cramped that the animals can't turn around or stand – for their entire lives, and that the bile is extracted through painful methods.

The conditions on the farms are documented in YouTube videos.

“This is torture,” a YouTube user named “mogtrader8″ posted after watching that video. “There's no doubt about it.”

The cause has resonated on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms with both individuals, including artists and athletes, and groups like Moon Bear Rescue. (The bears typically used in bile farming are Asiatic black bears, commonly known as moon bears because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest.)

An animal rights activist in Australia tweeted:

An American environmentalist known as Sprat24 called bear bile farming “despicable” and asked, “Have you seen how these bears live? How could you not help?”

Rescuing moon bears from mistreatment 

Animals Asia has been helping moon bears since it was founded in 1998. The foundation has rescued more than 400 animals from bile farms, established bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, and urged government officials to outlaw the practice.

There are no accurate estimates on the global population of Asiatic black bears; they may number in the tens of thousands. Experts believe the moon bear population is declining. They are not considered endangered, but the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In China, bear bile farming is legal, but only on licensed farms that have at least 50 bears and meet certain standards.

In January 2013, in what became known on Twitter as the #newyearrescue, Animals Asia and China's State Forestry agency rescued six moon bears from an illegal bear bile farm in Sichuan province. The bears, which had injuries and other evidence of mistreatment, were resettled at the foundation's shelter outside Chengdu.

Hong Kong photographer Peter Yuen recently documented the progress that the rescued bears have made:

Peter Yuen documented Animal Asia's moon bear rescue effort. Photo via Animal Asia's campaign page in Facebook.

Peter Yuen documented Animal Asia's moon bear rescue effort. Photo via Animal Asia's campaign page in Facebook.

What a difference a year makes…

One year on from her rescue, Manuka forages in her habitat without a care in the world.

But rescuing bears one at a time isn't enough, Animals Asia says.;

Petitioning China's US ambassador

In its latest campaign against bear bile farming, the group hopes to garner at least 100,000 signatures on a petition asking China to end the practice entirely. Animals Asia plans to present the petition to Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States. The petition reads:

On January 9th 2013, six lucky moon bears arrived at Animals Asia's Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu — the only sanctuary in China built to care for bears rescued from the barbaric practice of bile farming. Battered and broken from their time on an illegal bear farm, these bears are already starting to mend under the expert care of Animals Asia's dedicated vet team.

And while the nightmare is over for these six bears, across China more than 10,000 moon bears remain in tiny cages never feeling the sun on their backs or grass under their feet. They can be kept like this for up to 30 years. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of many effective and affordable alternatives.

Animals Asia applauds the Chinese Government for rescuing these six bears and closing the illegal farm, but the suffering of 10,000 must be made a priority and a firm date set when bear farming will end!

Many of the people who signed the petition added comments. “Cruel and disgusting,” wrote a woman from California (signer No. 82,965).

A women from the Netherlands (signer No. 82,526) posted: “Never believe that animals suffer less than humans do. Pain is the same for them that it is for us.”

“Not all traditions are worth continuing!” stated a resident of British Columbia (signer No. 83,014). “This is an archaic practice that needs to stop.”

The use of bear bile is a centuries-old tradition in Southeast Asia. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use bear bile to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, fever and other ailments; some men tout it as aphrodisiac or hangover cure.

Bear bile is used in more than 120 Chinese medicine products, from heart medication to eye drops. Because of the demand, the bile can sell for astronomical prices – up to 24,000 US dollars a kilogram, about half the price of gold.

To obtain the bile, farmers insert a metal tube permanently into the belly of each bear; the animal wears an iron vest to hold it in place. The bile then is extracted two to four times a day.

The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid. Scientists disagree on whether it has significant health benefits.

Ursodeoxycholic acid can be obtained from many other sources, such as herbs and synthetic processes. Groups such as Animals Asia, the World League for Protection of Animals and Wildlife Worldwide have been urging practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to shift from bear bile to alternative sources.

Celebrities support for moon bears 

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, pop singer Han Hong, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others.

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and etc. Animal Asia Poster.

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others. Animals Asia Poster.

Many Chinese celebrities stepped forward to protest bear bile farming in 2011 and 2012 when the pharmaceutical firm Gui Zhentang, which extracts and sells bile, was applying to be listed as a publicly traded company on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

In the face of the public backlash, Gui Zhentang last year withdrew its application to issue an initial public offering. 

Then, last August, animal rights activists scored another victory: As part of Animals Asia's “Healing without Harm” campaign, about 150 Chinese drugstores announced that they would no longer sell bear bile products. 

That prompted an outpouring of support for the pharmacies on social media:

On petition website ForceChange, user Judy Thorpe commented:

Bears have suffered for so many years and I cannot express enough praise in your decision for refusing to stock bear bile on your store's shelves. We are now in the modern era and animal abuse will not be tolerated. You have set a positive example by taking stand against bear bile products. Thank-you so very much.

Besides China, South Korea also allows bear bile farming; nearly 1,600 bears are being raised in that country. Vietnam banned the practice in 2005, but Animals Asia says about 2,400 bears still are being illegally raised on bile farms there.

Animals Asia isn't the first group to start a petition against bear bile farming. In 2011, Wildlife World obtained 15,000 signatures on a petition calling on Hu Jintao, then president of China, to close the country's bear bile farms.

If Animals Asia's petition proves unpersuasive, the group has another tactic to get its story across: an interactive storybook for children.

The foundation teamed up with Microsoft and on January 29 launched a website in both English and Chinese to tell the story of the rescued bear Jasper and his buddies.

February 12 2014

China: Cleaning Up The Yellow

In Chinese language, the color yellow also signifies sex and pornography. The crackdown of sex industry and pornographic materials is termed as “cleaning-up the yellow”. Political cartoonist @remonwangxt's latest work is about the “Cleaning-up yellow” campaign in China.

China Dissidents Going to the U.S

Patrick Lozada from Beijing Cream discussed the phenomena that many dissidents who have left China would turn up joining the Right Wing organizations in the U.S. He pointed out the dilemma of the current situation:

I understand why they do it. You can say bad things about China in China and go to jail, or you can have conservatives pay you enormous amounts of money to do it in the US. Regardless it causes these activists to lose credibility as agents of change in China, and the impact they can have from the States is minimal.

Journalists in Hong Kong and Taiwan Battle Beijing's Influence

Committee to Protect Journalist released a report on self-censorship practice in Hong Kong and Taiwan under the increasing influence from Beijing:

Self-censorship–it's like the plague, a cancerous growth, multiplying on a daily basis.

February 11 2014

China: Prostitution Crackdown Reveals Mass Mobile Surveillance Abuses

The Chinese government has launched a massive crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan, a well-known sex industry hub in southern China.

In addition to a news feature  on China Central Television about the corruption of the sex industry in Dongguan, the official Sina Weibo published an eight-hour population in-flow and out-flow map of Donguan city, which has been interpreted as the escape path of “prostitutes” and “prostitution clients” during the crackdown. Generated by Baidu Qianxi with data from Baidu map, the map indicated that most people fleeing the crackdown “escaped” to Hong Kong.

Baidu's 8-hour population flow map during the crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan city was released through Sina Weibo official account. Image via Apple Daily.

Baidu's 8-hour population flow map during the crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan city was released through Sina Weibo official account. Image via Apple Daily.

Originally, Baidu Qianxi was designed as a visualization tool that could map population flows during the Chinese Lunar New Year. But as Luo Changping at Letscorp pointed out [zh], the fact that Baidu Qianxi was able to appropriate the data surrounding the prostitution crackdown suggests that authorities are using mass surveillance to track these patterns, rather than only targeting criminal suspects, and thereby violating the personal privacy of untold numbers of citizens.

Some technology bloggers such as Lui Xuewen noted that the so-called “escape route” shown on the map was highly misleading as there were other reasons behind the population flow. In fact, in an ordinary day, population flow between the two cities can even be higher as many factories in Dongguan are owned by people from Hong Kong.

The use of geolocation tracking technology in this crackdown by the party propaganda authority indicates to the public that the police authority, through Baidu and other mobile application developers, is capable of tracking mobile phones and thus the real identity of individuals, as nearly all mobile numbers are linked with the owner's identity card. In reaction to this threat, many Hong Kong netizens said that they planned to shut down their mobile when traveling in China.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Why the Western Media Loves Hating on China

When journalists stumble onto a story that sounds too juicy to be true, it may well be – so they're taught to double-check the facts before publishing.

But a British newspaper last month ran a piece of blarney with the headline, “China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog.” The story about natural light-starved China's virtual sunrises went viral as news organizations around the world picked it up, with headlines like Smog-bound Beijing resort to virtual sunrises and Smog in Beijing is so so awful you have to catch the sunrise on a big screen.

It took bloggers to expose the hoax by pointing out that the sunrise on the TV monitors in Tiananmen Square was part of a tourism commercial that plays year round, regardless of the time of day or level of pollution. Even then, many news outlets refused to retract or correct the initial erroneous reports.

The episode isn’t just about shoddy reporting on one inconsequential story, several netizens debated. They said it reflects a bias that many Western journalists have toward China and other developing countries: to always believe, and report, the worst. As Immense_Rainbowman posted on Reddit:

The western media love any kind of story that puts a bad light on China. It's part of the whole current anti-China sentiment that has risen steadily since China's economic growth. An easy follow-on from the anti-communism sentiment from the last generation.
The narrative is that life is terrible in China, and it's to distract the Western population from our own troubles, where quality of life is taking a downturn because of recession and debt.

Another Reddit user, “wetac0s,” added: “never trust any news about China from Western media.”

How the story got started

The story originated in the UK's Daily Mail on January 17.  James Nye, a Daily Mail reporter who lives in New York, wrote:

The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city's natural light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.

The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize tourist destinations, but as the season's first wave of extremely dangerous smog hit – residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.

The article was accompanied by four photos from Tiananmen Square, the iconic plaza in Beijing, which does indeed feature gigantic TV monitors. One of the pictures showed a sunrise being displayed on a screen, with the caption, “Virtual sunlight”.

Nye's story got picked up by dozens of media outlets around the world, from CBS and The Huffington Post to Business Insider and AOL. Invariably, they echoed the Daily Mail hogwash, saying the digital screens were “the only way people were going to see the sun.”

Within a few days, the misinformation had polluted the social media environment. On Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, people passed along the bogus story:

Exposing the hoax

There were signs from Day 1 that something was amiss. Shortly after the Daily Mail put its story online, a reader, Cole Ranze, posted a comment questioning its veracity:

To be fair, the billboard with the image of the sun is clearly displaying a tourism advertisement for Shandong province, no doubt just one of many in a string of beautiful images meant to illustrate the beauty of that region. I think this article is a bit misleading, to be sure.

But it wasn't until January 20 that the blog Tech in Asia definitively exposed the Daily Mail report and the stories it spawned as a hoax. Under the headline “No, Beijing residents are NOT watching fake sunrises on giant TVs because of pollution,” editor Paul Bischoff called the entire story “complete bullshit”:

In truth, that sunrise was probably on the screen for less than 10 seconds at a time, as it was part of an ad for tourism in China’s Shandong province. The ad plays every day throughout the day all year round no matter how bad the pollution is. The photographer simply snapped the photo at the moment when the sunrise appeared.

Bischoff chastised news organizations that were so eager to carry the Daily Mail fabrication without checking the facts. “International media should be embarrassed for not taking even a moment to second guess the Daily Mail, one of the least reputable news sources in the UK,” Bischoff wrote. He added:

Shame on any media that ran this farce. China has its problems, but they have proven themselves far too eager to criticize just to attract hits from the shock factor. Beijing pollution is bad enough without the added dishonest sensationalism.

Bischoff tweeted his knock-down …

… and it rippled through the blogosphere. On the same social media platforms where the sham earlier circulated, correction alarms sounded.

“Well, we’ve been duped,” an environmentalist in Washington, D.C., posted on his Tumblr. On a blog ordinarily devoted to video games, a man called the initial Daily Mail story “disingenuous.” And a UK political blogger, Tom Pride, noted that “Daily Mail story about sunrises being shown on big screens in Beijing was made up.”

The bigger story: failed media ethics

Of course, the belated corrections will never catch up to the initial falsehoods. As the 19th-century preacher C.H. Spurgeon once said, “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”

Even now, only a few outlets that ran the fake sunrise-on-TV story, such as Time, have pulled or corrected it. 

But the issue is far bigger than one false news report. It speaks to the state of media ethics, or lack thereof.

“How do relatively respectable outfits like Time, HuffPo and CBS jump onboard with circulating fake stories? Simply by not checking, for one,” reporter Gwynn Guilford wrote in the online business publication Quartz. Her article was titled, ”Westerners are so convinced China is a dystopian hellscape they’ll share anything that confirms it.”

To many reporters, if the meme fits, they'll go with it, no questions asked. In this case, the Daily Mail concoction fit the impression many Westerners have of China.

“And by interweaving the themes of pollution and the government’s Orwellian-tinged attempts to control daily life, the Daily Mail offers a double-whammy of Western reader stereotypes about China,” Guilford wrote.

That enticed other publications to serve up the phony story to their readers as well.

“This isn’t the first China lie that gets picked up and broadcast by Western news media. Mike Daisey’s fabricated NPR story on ‘This American Life’ comes prominently to mind,” wrote Patrick Lozada, managing editor of the news and culture blog Beijing Cream. The headline of his post was “Why the Fake Pollution Billboard Story Matters.”

Many countries besides China get this treatment.

Earlier in January, U.S. news outlets breathlessly claimed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had his uncle executed in December by stripping him naked and feeding him to 120 hungry dogs. That report originated in a sketchy Hong Kong newspaper, was picked up a paper in Singapore and then burst into American media.

However, the story clearly was fraudulent, according to Max Fisher of The Washington Post. He listed several tip-offs, including: The initial story had no sources; and the media in China and South Korea, where reporters are most knowledgeable about North Korea, ignored the report.

“But all of this raises the question: why are so many people – and so many major U.S. media outlets – still willing to treat this implausible story as plausible?” Fisher asked. 

A blog called Pacific Side then aggregated substantial evidence that the fed-to-the-dogs story was fed to the media as satire on Weibo, China's microblogging service.

For many news consumers, the episode said more about the media's behavior than Kim Jong Un's:

Jeff South is a journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is currently visiting Changchun, China as a Fulbright scholar.

Four short links: 11 February 2014

  1. China’s $122BB Boom in Shadow Banking is Happening on Phones (Quartz) — Tencent’s recently launched online money market fund (MMF), Licai Tong, drew in 10 billion yuan ($1.7 billion) in just six days in the last week of January.
  2. The Weight of Rain — lovely talk about the thought processes behind coming up with a truly insightful visualisation.
  3. Data on Video Streaming Starting to Emerge (Giga Om) — M-Lab, which gathers broadband performance data and distributes that data to the FCC, has uncovered significant slowdowns in throughput on Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Such slowdowns could be indicative of deliberate actions taken at interconnection points by ISPs.
  4. Javascript Puzzlers — how well do you know Javascript?
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