Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cross-strait ‘radicals’ and ‘hardliners’

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Hard-line, adj. Definition: advocating or involving a rigidly uncompromising course of action. Radical, adj. Definition: marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional: extreme b: tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c: of, relating to, or constituting a political group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change d: advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.

With this in mind, let us turn to today’s reporting by Agence France-Presse on a vote by Hong Kong lawmakers on democratic reform:

Hong Kong lawmakers on Thursday agreed to enlarge the electoral base for choosing the city’s [sic] leader, while stopping well short of one person, one vote for the Chinese territory’s seven million people … A split in the pro-democracy opposition allowed passage for the first part of a package of political reforms, to expand the Beijing-backed committee that elects the chief executive from 800 members now to 1,200 in 2012.

Now, the interesting bits:

Radical legislator ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung accused moderates in the Democratic Party of betrayal, as hardliners vowed to settle for nothing less than universal suffrage in 2012.

Three words stand out, all editorializing: radical, moderates, and hardliners, all terms that aren’t used, further down in the story, to qualify “the former British colony’s communist overseers in Beijing,” or, in a separate story on June 21, Hong Kong “Chief Executive Donald Tsang.”

Not unlike its reporting on Taiwan, where it invariably describes the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan Solidarity Union as “anti China” and radical,” AFP is once again portraying anyone who disagrees with Beijing in a bad light. Rather than avoid politically hued characterizations altogether (in a bid for journalistic neutrality) or, conversely, making sure that such characterizations are equally applied when necessary, AFP limits its use of negative connotations to Hong Kong lawmakers seeking democracy and universal suffrage and Taiwanese parties that want Taiwan’s 23 million people to determine their own future without the threat of use force by China.

Surely, if AFP weren’t so openly biased, it would have used the term “hardliner” for Beijing and Tsang, who, as per the Merriam-Webster definition provided above, “advocat[e] … a rigidly uncompromising course of action” — in this case, denying residents of Hong Kong universal suffrage and ensuring that Beijing continues to control the territory, often against the wishes of its people.

The same applies to the term “radical.” How could support for democracy and universal suffrage — accepted notions the world over — possibly be equated with “extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions” or “constituting a political group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change” or “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”?

Using non-violent means to ensure the rights of Taiwanese and Hong Kongers isn’t radical or hard-line or extremist. So why does AFP continue to use such terms, if not to please Beijing?


Anonymous said...

The word "Radical" came from "Radical Republican in the reconstruction era". According to history book, "Radical Republicans pushed for the abolition of slavery, and after the war supported equal rights for freedmen (the newly freed slaves), such as measures ensuring the right to vote."

I don't see how OP came out with negative association with that.

Furthermore, I don't see OP's "So why does AFP continue to use such terms, if not to please Beijing?".

Most western media in general has negative bias against China, no the other way around. Just go to any NY times article. Most articles regarding China are negative in nature.

MikeinTaipei said...


We can cherry pick definitions that fit what we're trying to convey, as yours does. That said, there is no doubt that in most readers' view, the connotations for the words "radical" and "extremist" are negative, hence my problem with their usage and application to only one side of the equation.

China is getting mostly negative coverage in Western media because it is deserved, especially when it comes to human rights. However, attributing tag words — and doing so repeatedly — with, as I just said, a negative connotation to individuals who peacefully seek to achieve democracy and universal suffrage is plainly crass, especially when media do so either for access to the Chinese market or because they have related financial interests there.