War in Iraq

Chinese Media Coverage of War in Iraq

Chinese soldiers read about the war in Iraq
Chinese soldiers read headlines about the war in Iraq, March 21, 2003 (Photo: AFP).

The war in Iraq has received unprecedented coverage in the Chinese media, with many firsts in the history of Chinese journalism.

This is the first war that Central China Television (CCTV), China's leading network, is covering in real-time. Three of its 12 channels, namely CCTV-1, CCTV-4, and CCTV-9, its English channel, have been using sources or footage from CNN, Fox TV, and Al-Jazeera, as well as from Xinhua News Agency, China's leading wire service, to keep their millions of viewers informed of the progress of the war.

In the first three days of the war, CCTV-1 and CCTV-4 respectively devoted 14 and 20 hours per day to present it; as of the first week of April, the air time has been shortened to three hours per day. A dozen scholars on military affairs and international relations have been invited to comment on and analyze televised military actions and other aspects of the war.

While the Chinese Embassy in Iraq and the Chinese media withdrew all their personnel from the country before the war started on March 20, Xinhua News Agency has managed to have first-hand news reports filed from Baghdad. In the process, Xinhua became the first Chinese news organization to hire a non-Chinese national, a local Iraqi, to work as a correspondent for its service. With his help, Xinhua beat other wire services to be the first to report the start of the war on March 20.

From March 20 to April 2, Xinhua filed a total of 13,919 news reports, commentaries, roundups, and features on the war in Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. These dispatches have been readily picked up by almost all the mainstream media in China.

Aside from written texts and photos, Xinhua has also provided TV and radio stations with bulletins and audio services. Its correspondents in and around Iraq have been invited to talk live about the war currents on some radio and TV programs.

The Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV also launched a nonstop live broadcast on March 20, which lasted over 100 hours. Phoenix's reputation swelled as its senior reporter, Rose Luqiu, returned to Baghdad from Jordan on March 23 after the war started. She and her cameraman Cai Chengjiang became the first Chinese journalists reporting a war on the spot. But now they have been forced to withdraw from Iraq again.

The print media have run special editions for the war. While the People's Daily, the organ of the ruling Communist Party of China, has devoted an entire page to the war coverage daily, China Youth Daily and Beijing Youth Daily, two popular newspapers, give respectively two and four or six pages to it.

Generally speaking, the Chinese media coverage of the war in Iraq indicates a cautious impartiality and objectivity, focusing on the war-related events per se rather than its nature. Analysts also concentrate on things like military strength, stratagey, the tactics employed by both sides, and predictions of the war’s development. Beijing Youth Daily prints a war map every day.

In the second week of the war, more summaries, news analyses, and in-depth reports on the war began to appear, as well as analyses of its impact on the world economy, supply shortages in Iraq, the U.N. oil-for-food program, and the international responses. Many reports and pictures carried by Chinese media show the cruelty of the war: starving children, frightened people, and ruins—which reveal a critical approach to the conflict and a yearning for peace.

After April 4, coverage of the war began to focus on the military operations in Baghdad and Basra. As the print and electronic media presented pictures and reports showing battle scenes in Baghdad, they also gave detailed reports on the second meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The media reports all notice that the war in Iraq turned in favor of the U.S.-British coalition forces around April 7-8, as a report filed by Xinhua News Agency on April 9 stated.

Aside from the war in Iraq, Chinese media have given considerable space or air time to international responses to the war and to civilian casualties. The People’s Daily devoted nearly a entire page on April 3 to the international call for peace to Iraq.

Another focus of interest in the Chinese media is the fate of truth and role of the media in the war. They reported that NBC fired journalist Peter Arnett after he gave an unauthorized interview with Iraqi national TV and that three journalists were killed on April 8 in a U.S. military attack on the Palestine Hotel, where hundreds of international journalists have been covering the war. These events give rise to questions about American press freedom.

An April 5 China Times news analysis compared conflicting reports on the rescue of the American soldier Jessica Lynch and raised six points that call the accuracy of the accounts into question:

1. Tips for finding Lynch after her captivity are inconsistent;
2. Some reports show that the U.S. military got the tip on the specific room in which Lynch was detained, but others indicate the rescue was conducted without the information;
3. Whether Lynch was shot, when she was shot, and how many times she was shot contradicted one another in American media reports;
4. There are various versions of how Lynch was captured;
5. There are inconsistent reports on the bodies of American soldiers allegedly found in the hospital where Lynch was detained, as to their number and treatment; and
6. There are entirely different versions of how Lynch was saved.