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Friday, 15 May 2020 11:29

In Australia-China spats, the media only gives one side of the picture

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In Australia-China spats, the media only gives one side of the picture Image by wei zhu from Pixabay

Australia has been imposing hefty duties on Chinese steel, aluminium and chemical imports for more than six years, despite a letter from the Chinese side in 2014 saying that holding talks with Canberra on this would be of no use.

Recently, China said it would impose tariffs on Australian barley and also block beef imports from four Australian abattoirs. This latter story has become a big stamping ground for patriotic Australian journalists, a crowd who accuse Chinese scribes of being one-eyed, but act exactly the same way.

But the fact that Australia has been imposing huge tariffs? Only one journalist to date, Angus Grigg of the Australian Financial Review, has written about it.

Under the headline "Australia not blameless in China trade war", a sub-headline says, "Australia has been imposing hefty duties on Chinese steel, aluminium and chemicals for much of the past decade."

But then Australia is always the good guy, isn't it?

It's the same with most of the other reporting on matters to do with China; the Australian mainstream media gives a one-sided picture of things, probably because most reporters are clothed in the national flag when they write their yarns.

They act as though they are government propagandists, not journalists. Of course, were any Chinese journalist to write a one-sided story, we would hear umpteen references to the fact that China is ruled by a Communist Government. (That has been the case throughout the country's history, yet this fact is paraded as though the Communists took over yesterday).

One more example. In reporting the fact that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, few, if any, publications have pointed out that this clarion call was made four days after Morrison had a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump.

So the question does arise: did Morrison, a man who has been notorious for fawning on Trump, take his cue from the White House? Subsequent events appear to give credence to this theory.

Soon after Morrison made the announcement, there seemed to be second thoughts about it, with top DFAT official Frances Adamson calling the Chinese ambassador to Australia and playing down the implications of Morrison's move.

The Chinese envoy promptly leaked the contents of the call and it made Australia look rather stupid: in one breath, Canberra was both trying to be the moral police and also downplaying the push for a global review into the origins of coronavirus.

Clearly, nobody had learnt from the way former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa embarrassed Australia back in 2013, leaking details of private discussions he had with ex-foreign minister Julie Bishop about Australia's asylum seeker policy.

Natalegawa went one step further and issued a media release with details of what Bishop apparently thought were confidential discussions!

But wait, there's more. Whenever there are reports of militarisation in the South China Sea, the picture that is painted is one of China unilaterally making the area a minefield. No mention is made of the fact that the US has about 40 bases ring-fencing China. On one of those bases, in Okinawa, Japan, there are nuclear missiles targeting Beijing. Okinawa is just 450km from Beijing.

But then I'm sure that is a move to ensure peace in the region. When the US is involved, how can one even consider words like "aggressive"?

How many media organs have mentioned the fact that the US conducted an unannounced naval exercise in 2015, demonstrating that it could thoroughly choke China's sea supply lanes? Was that provocative or just good-neighbourliness? Did Beijing's moves in the South China sea accelerate after or before this event?

One-sided reporting is dangerous – it feeds into a narrative that fuels xenophobia in Australia. But then are journalists bothered about that or are they are more concerned about the level of popularity they enjoy with the Australian Government of the day?

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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