The 2019 Hong Kong protests, also known as Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB) Movement, are an ongoing series of conflicts and demonstrations in Hong Kong, China. The initial clash between Hong Kong citizens and mainland China was triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill. The bill bore the potential of subjecting Hong Kong locals to detention and extradition – something that the Chinese government had not been entitled to till recently. The main concern that the people of Hong Kong are expressing is that if passed, the bill is going to be a gateway to asserting the Chinese jurisdiction. The latter would undermine the autonomy of the region and citizens’ civil liberties. This paper discusses the differences between news coverage by four major American news outlets and reflects on the role and leverage of mass media.
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The present analysis covers four recent articles published between 26 and 29 September, 2019, by CNN, NBC, FoxNews, and NPR. Currently, the protests are becoming downright violent with many human victims. At the same time, the police are scrutinized and reprimanded for their disproportionately cruel actions. One thing that stands out in all of the articles selected for the analysis is that they primarily seek to capture demonstrators’ perspective on the ongoing conflict. Not only that, but the authors are employing emotivism to make their write-ups more moving.
Probably, the most emotional piece among all recent articles on Hong Kong protests is the one by Berlinger and Cheung (2019) for CNN. In their journalistic endeavor, they juxtapose the life of an ordinary student in Hong Kong to the brutality of the events that have turned his life upside down. CNN journalists are generous with very specific and emotional details. The article starts with a vivid description of Jim, the interviewee, trying to save a wounded man. His attempts are not successful: “He couldn’t carry the man anymore. All he could do was cry Berlinger & Cheung, 2019, para. 3).” The featured story is in line with CNN’s liberal outlook that makes the human front and center of their journalism.
As compared to CNN, other news outlets were heavier on dry facts and statistics. For instance, Ng (2019) for NPR gives clear numbers and figures regarding the most recent Umbrella demonstration to let readers gauge the scope of the conflict. However, throughout the article, Ng (2019) provides brief descriptions of protesters and their life situation as well as their pieces of mind on the events. Again, this journalistic method makes the reader pick a side and feel sympathy for those whose lives are shown in an article.
NPR and FoxNews have published probably the least emotive pieces. NPR submitted more information on Hong Kong politicians than the others. Namely, McCarthy and Booker (2019) for NPR reported that Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, stated her intentions to withdraw the extradition bill. FoxNews has also provided an unemotional, logical overview of what has been happening so far. What is interesting though is that all the outlets apart from FoxNews openly call the protests prodemocratic. As conservative media, FoxNews seems to dislike labels and puts “antitotalitarian” and “prodemocratic” in quotes.
As seen from the analysis, each of the news outlets provides a more or less full picture of the ongoing events. However, it is abundantly easy to see how these outlets might be subtly shaping political opinions in their readers. CNN is publishing stories that can and do derive an emotion. It is hard not to sympathize with a person whose pain and suffering are shown up close. Apart from that, deliberate omission of the facts from the other side of the conflict might also influence how readers see the situation. Overall, once all major journals have made it online, the availability and accessibility of the Internet made it easier for them to connect with their target audiences. That opened them up for the opportunities to perpetuate their agendas.
Berlinger, J., & Cheung, E. (2019). ‘Burn with us’: How a summer of protest pushed young Hong Kongers to the edge. CNN, Web.
McCarthy, J. & Booker, B. (2019). Hong Kong Braces For Massive Weekend Protests. NPR, Web.
Ng, E. (2019). Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Rally Ends Early as Violence Erupts. NBC New York, Web.
Phillips, M. (2019). Latest Hong Kong pro-democracy protests end early after violent turn. FoxNews, Web.