An analysis of Canadian mainstream media’s reporting of U.S. President Obama’s visit to Vietnam recently was so biased that stories may as well have been written by the White House.
Just about all traditional media provided Washington’s pre-packaged message to the Canadian public:
The good guy Obama was in Hanoi to lift the U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam so it could defend itself against the aggressive Chinese, and do what the U.S. could to help the country modernize. In return, the U.S., one of the worst violators of rights in the world, expects communist Vietnam to improve its human rights record.
Obama’s visit to Vietnam wasn’t an important story for Canadians but, nevertheless, it is a good example of how American interests dominate coverage that appears in our mainstream media.
The Toronto Star apparently was the only major Canadian news outlet to carry a substantial story clearly outlining China’s concerns over the implications of U.S. expanded relations with Vietnam.
The Winnipeg Free Press ran a story that briefly mentioned China’s concerns.
Major news companies covered only one point of view
However, the following news organizations reported the story the way Washington would like to have it: At CTV News Channel and CBC News Network hosts read just about the same story ad nauseam for hours. The stories likely came from The Associated Press, which is strongly biased in favour of the United States.
In addition, CTV News Channel carried an interview with Donald Baker of the UBC Asia Studies Centre in which Baker presented only U.S. objectives.
A Global News reporter in Toronto voiced over a full report that laid out the U.S. point of view. From what I could see, CTV National News did a 30-second voice over, while CBC’s The National apparently didn’t cover the story.
The Globe and Mail reported the basic pro-U.S. story only on its website
The Ottawa Citizen and The Calgary Herald posted a clip of Obama’s speech on their websites, while The Edmonton Journal did not appear to cover the story.
As frequently happens at old media, three papers covered the lighter side of Obama’s visit. The Vancouver Sun, The Montreal Gazette, the and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reported on Obama’s pre-arranged $6 lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
Important views left out of stories
There was a lot more that could have been reported on the real self-interest objectives of Obama’s visit and the implications for countries in the Pacific region.
It would have been best if all stories could have been better balanced and covered the views of the U.S. and other players from the region.
Just as Obama was announcing the lifting of the arms embargo against Vietnam in Hanoi, China warned the U.S. President not to spark a fire in Asia. The China Daily bluntly stated that Obama’s move was meant to “curb the rise of China.”
The Chinese nationalist Global Times called Obama’s claim that the Vietnam move was not aimed at China “a very poor lie,” adding that it would exacerbate the “strategic antagonism between Washington and Beijing.” It said the U.S.is trying to knit three nets around China — in ideology, in security and in economy and trade — in an attempt to secure its dominance of the region.
Meanwhile, the Russian news service Sputnik quoted U.S. analyst and author Dan Lazare: “Just as the United States has sought to cordon Russia off in the West by ringing it with nearly a dozen hostile states extending from Georgia to the Baltics, “it is plainly intent on doing the same in the east by orchestrating an anti-Chinese alliance from Vietnam to Japan.”
China and Russia are also concerned that the U.S. may be willing to sell deadly, sophisticated arms systems to Vietnam that the Russians have been refusing to sell them, at the request of China. Such sales would escalate militarization in the region. Vietnam may also spend millions to purchase U.S.-made drones.
Corporate media’s failure to cover these stories in a more balanced way can be blamed only slightly on media cutbacks. Any and all of the Chinese and Russian stories referred to here were available to all Canadian media.
The way Canadian mainstream media covered the Vietnam visit is typical of how they report on practically all U.S. international adventures, whether it’s the While House effort to demonize Russia, U.S. interventions in the Middle East, or U.S. denying it is involved in helping overturn elected democracies in Latin America.
The international news coverage of publicly-owned CBC News is only slightly better. For the most part, it uses the same news sources used by corporate media.
Not surprising corporate media likes U.S. message
Considering who owns mainstream media in Canada, it’s not surprising there’s strong support for U.S. policies. Big private media outlets are owned by corporations that also benefit greatly from doing business with the United States. Corporate owners are also ideologically aligned with the right-wing U.S. government. They wouldn’t want their newspapers, TV and radio stations to report stories that contradict U.S. foreign policy.
In addition, most editors know what’s expected of them. Many of them still have their minds set in the years of the Cold War: Ruskies and Chinamen are bad people. The thinking is that communists are out to destroy democracy, so what they say does not deserve to be covered.
The victim in all this is the Canadian public, which is denied learning about the views and positions taken by governments in much of the world. The biased coverage also encouraged people to support U.S. policies and think that there are no worthwhile alternative views.
Can old media be changed to provide a better balance of international news? No. This would require a total revolution occurring in mainstream media, and this isn’t going to happen. Canadians who want better and more balanced news should support the growth of independent media. The future of media exists on the Internet, and several news sites are working hard to provide a strong alternative to old, biased corporate media.