In about three months, the COVID-19 outbreak has spread to more than two hundred countries globally. As global infection cases soar beyond 2.2 million, fear and anxiety arise among both citizens and politicians. In the midst of this turmoil, I noticed the increasingly different pictures that the US media and Chinese media are portraying. For comparison, I will look at The New York Times and the China Central Television’s (CCTV) reporting on two recent incidents.
Since March, as China’s domestic outbreak wanes, Beijing has embarked on a journey to aid foreign countries: as described by The New York Times, “a donation diplomacy.” In “Its Coronavirus Cases Dwindling, China Turns Focus Outward,” The New York Times described the Chinese efforts as “an aid blitz that is giving China the chance to reposition itself,” with which China will rewrite its own coronavirus narrative. In a later article titled “China’s Coronavirus Battle is Waning. Its Propaganda fight is not,” The New York Times gives a scalding critique of China’s reported infections and deaths and warns against China’s “geopolitical ambitions.”
On the other hand, CCTV has a different story to tell. On its official Weibo account, the CCTV has written stories of Chinese supplies and medical experts arriving in foreign nations, adorned by pictures of handover ceremony. In a post on March 26, it wrote that “China has announced to offer humanitarian aid to eighty-three countries.” In part of a press conference broadcasted on CCTV Channel 4, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying rebuked claims questioning China’s geopolitical ambitions and questioned reporters whether China should have done nothing instead.
As the outbreak outside of China surges, students studying abroad have found it increasingly difficult to find their way home. According to new regulations by the Bureau of Civil Aviation effective since March 26th, every single Chinese airline may only keep one air route to a specific country and only one flight per week. This astonishing change, which cuts international inbound flights by almost 90%, will go on to impact millions of Chinese students and citizens\; however, it was barely reported by CCTV.
Rather, the CCTV has been dedicating their time to Chinese embassies overseas. Headlines like “Chinese Embassy in New Zealand: Will Protect the Legal Rights of Chinese Citizens,” have been floating on prime time television for weeks. When not inviting ambassadors to speak about governmental promises, CCTV reports how “health packs” are being delivered to students abroad. These health packs include masks, wipes, hand sanitizers and some medications. There is even a special program around television prime time: videos of overseas Chinese students living happily amidst the turmoil while enjoying the health pack from motherland.
The New York Times has taken a different angle to this issue. In “Coronavirus Strands China’s students, in a Dilemma for Beijing,” The New York Times suggests that COVID-19 has stranded “more than one million Chinese students… in fearful towns and cities” globally. However, as they try to make their way home, politics and “competing priorities of the Chinese government” stand in their way. One of its most pressing concerns, according to The New York Times, is that “returnees who have been studying abroad could worsen the outbreak.”
Compared to health pandemics in the past, COVID-19 has been characterized by its over-politicization. While the general population is demanding clarity and truth in a time of crisis, the news media will slowly lose its journalistic integrity for serving only political purposes. Biased and incomplete reporting will cost people the chance to look at a global crisis reasonably and responsibly, yet the ability to think critically will guide us through a crisis like the one we are facing now.