Take No Side, Tell All Sides — “China’s Wild West” Goes Over A Fine Line

Laura Ling’s story “China’s Wild West” has raised controversy on the issue regarding ethnicity and territories. In this report, Ling traveled to the Gobi Desert.

Ling did a good job in reporting conflicts and giving voices to those uncovered, especially considering the difficulties she had to deal with because of government censorship. However, I would like to see more objective coverage in this story. It would be a better piece of  journalism if Ling reported the facts and let the viewers make their own decision instead of interpreting for them.

In this report, Ling used “it seems” frequently after her description of this area. For example, the reporting crew encountered an unexpected emergent security inspection before its plane took off. All the passengers were ordered to get off the plane and get additional security screening in another van. Here’s how Ling told the story:

“They were Chinese guys; they were not Uighurs. So we don’t know what they were wanted for, but it seems likely that they were involved in any Uighurs separatist activities.”

She didn’t give any evidence on what made her relate the security screening to the government’s suspicion of Uighurs. Then Ling went on by saying, “So it seems that whatever happens, the Chinese government seems to react as if they under the threat of terrorism.”

In the third piece, which was about China’s development and what it means to the Uighurs, Ling showed the viewers the prosperity of the Capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi. She interviewed a Uighur girl named Xia Xia. Ling asked if Xia thinks Uighurs in Xinjiang should be independent. Xia answered, “Why would we like that since our lives are good.” After Xia gave a tour about the modern city in Xinjiang, Ling’s comment is “most Uighurs in Urumqi don’t live like Xia Xia.” I disagree with Ling’s comments. Then she switched the scene to the countryside. As a viewer, I’m confused by the way she led the story. I don’t think it’s appropriate for Ling, who is a reporter, to lead the viewers’ thoughts.

The relevant principles at stake in Ling’s story are about independent monitoring of power and a forum for public criticism. “China’s Wild West” reveals the gray area to the public and monitors what the government is doing. However, in terms of providing a forum for public criticism, the story didn’t maintain an objective position. Instead, it’s more like Ling is telling the story because she thought the Uighurs should be independent, and Ling is passing her opinion to the viewers.

Laura Ling, a Chinese-American journalist, works for Current TV,. Ling and her Korean-American colleague, Euna Lee, were arrested by North Korea in March 2009 while they were filming near the country's border with China.

As to journalists’ loyalty, Ling’s loyalty is neither to the government side nor to the Uighers, but to the public. The Xinjiang area was uncovered because of the censorship, and Ling reported the story to the public. That was the most valuable thing of this story. Unfortunately, Ling jumped ahead and made the judgment for her viewers. Just like the Reuters Handbook for Journalists says: “Take no side, tell all sides.”

Because of the censorship from the Chinese government, Ling could not get any authority sources or any sources from the government’s side. In this way, “China’s Wild West” provides a lot of valuable materials for the viewers to make sense of what’s going on in this area. However, it doesn’t mean that Ling had to make a judgment on this issue herself. Many times, what the reporters are covering are dilemmas; they are controversial in nature. It is so difficult to judge which side is right and which is wrong; there might be no answers to those dilemmas at all. It’s not necessary to give a clear answer to each story. Journalists’ job is to give a fair and objective report to those issues, give voices to those who are forgotten by society and discover the unknown land. Ling’s interpretations to the report are unnecessary and actually added to biases and the reporter’s personal opinion. It has jeopardized what could be excellent journalism. If I were Ling, I would not make assumption for the viewers. Instead, I would explain how we were blocked by the sources and how censorship functions.