It’s the year of violent protests around the world, but those in Hong Kong get all the attention from mainstream American media. A comparative study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (fair.org), an independent US media watchdog, of The New York Times and CNN makes for fascinating reading about their extraordinary focus on the city against three other countries.
There have been the “Yellow Vests” in France and Catalan protests in Spain. Then came violent clashes with protesters in Lebanon, Gaza, Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, Iran and Iraq. Those killed by security forces range from dozens and hundreds to thousands, according to independent rights groups.
But FAIR finds: “Yet US corporate media have been disproportionately interested in only one: the Hong Kong protests.” Up to November 22, FAIR finds, “there have been 737 stories on the Hong Kong protests, 12 on Ecuador, 28 on Haiti and 36 on Chile.
“This enormous disparity cannot be explained by the other protests’ size or significance, nor the severity of the repression meted out by security services. No one has died at the hands of the Hong Kong security forces, although one protester died after falling from a building and a 70-year-old man was killed by a brick thrown by protesters.”
The study also observes: “Demonstrators in Hong Kong are almost universally referred to as ‘pro-democracy protesters’, whereas the protests rocking Chile were commonly denigrated as ‘riots’ or ‘looting and arson’.
“Likewise, the violence of the Ecuadorean protesters was constantly emphasised. The ‘wrath of labour and transport unions’,” CNN told us, was ‘unleashed’ as ‘violent protests have raged’ in Quito, and protesters held military members hostage.”
FAIR notes that US news media have routinely glossed over the more violent and grisly details of the Hong Kong protests to continue the simple narrative of lauding the “democracy-minded people of Hong Kong”, fighting for freedom.
“[Negative] language is rarely used with regards to Hong Kong protesters, even when it is arguably more applicable. In addition to widespread property damage … protesters recently doused another elderly man in flammable liquid and set fire to him on camera.”
“The Times’ reporters describe seeing the rebels producing ‘hundreds or thousands of bombs’ they were going to use. Despite this, the paper continued to describe the militants as ‘pro-democracy activists’.”
Any nuance is out the window as those news reports present Hong Kong “in a lockstep single-mindedness that would impress any totalitarian propaganda system”, the study concludes.