Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Chinese media's excessive coverage of the Connecticut school shooting incident

Over the last few days, a curious phenomenon has been commented on in various Chinese websites and forums: the Chinese media’s constant focusing on the tragic Connecticut shooting incident, and on the debate on gun control in the US which has come in its aftermath.

I had already noticed myself that the CCTV evening news kept having coverage of the shooting in Connecticut and of how Americans are apparently rushing out to buy guns because they fear imminent legislation restricting their “right” to gun ownership. When I really got suspicious was when I found that even last Sunday’s edition of 新京报 (a daily Beijing newspaper) dedicated an entire six page special insert to the issue of gun control in the US, a full nine days after the shooting.

The quantity and the duration of the coverage certainly seems exaggerated, especially when compared to how little attention other international events often get in the Chinese press. It becomes even more striking when you consider that very little coverage was devoted to the attack in a primary school in Henan province, where a madman with a knife injured 22 children. This attack happened exactly on the same day as the one in the US (some have justified the lack of coverage as an attempt not to encourage copycat attacks).

Why this excessive focus on the attack in the US, and on the gun control debate? In most of the Chinese internet forums where the issue is discussed, people seem to believe this is due to two reasons: the fact that many high ranking Chinese officials and wealthy people have family and children in the US, so they want to know about what goes on there; and the fact that the Chinese media want to deflect attention from the problems in China, and give the people a negative idea of life in the US.

Personally I find the second explanation much more convincing. I can easily imagine some ordinary Chinese people seeing these reports, and saying “美国很乱. 还是中国好” (the US is such a mess; China’s still better in the end), or some such nonsense. Of course the fact that Americans can freely buy guns in shops is quite shocking for Chinese people, just like it should be for people anywhere (just think that if the attacker in Henan had had a gun handy, there would now be scores of dead children, rather than just injured ones). Focusing on the issue of gun control is thus an excellent way to make the US look unsafe and barbaric, and China good by comparison. On the other hand focusing on the lack of universal free healthcare in the US wouldn’t work, since the Chinese don’t really have that either.

With the NRA now going on the offensive, and claiming that the solution to school shootings is posting armed guards in every school, doubtlessly the Chinese media will have more easy chances to present the States in a negative light in the near future.

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