The Associated Press’ take on China
Language, language, how it shapes our perception of reality, especially when it is used by supposed “reliable” news organizations. I came upon a beautiful series of pictures taken in Taiwan yesterday of members of the country’s Amnesty International branch arranging their bodies to spell out 自由 “ziyou,” or “freedom,” in denunciation of human rights violations in China (see cover of the Taipei Times, July 13, 2008).
What readers of the Taipei Times will not see, however, is the original AP photo caption, which read “… as they denounce the Chinese government for allegedly violating human rights” (italics added).
“Allegedly? There is nothing “alleged” about human rights violations in China; rather, they are known and widespread. This is either sloppy journalism on AP’s part or an unconscionable attempt to demonstrate so-called journalistic neutrality to a degree that blinds it to reality. Did AP reporters in Rwanda in 1994 refer to an “alleged” genocide? Was a Palestinian family “allegedly” killed by an Israeli tank shell? Were Israelis eating at a pizzeria “allegedly” killed when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated himself at the entrance of the restaurant? Why the special treatment for China, as it arrests its citizens, executes more prisoners in a year than anyone else and murders demonstrators and dissidents?
Such language is dangerous, as it could numb the mind to the amplitude of Beijing’s repression of its people. By dint of using terms that question the validity of what is (or should) otherwise be universally agreed upon, less-informed readers could eventually reach the conclusion that Chinese do not face human rights violations, at which point Beijing wins, and the people lose.
Or perhaps newspapers should add caveats of their own when the use AP wire stories. “A rose is a rose is a rose,” Ms. Stein told the allegedly credible AP.