I noticed something very odd at the ESWN weblog today. In a comment titled “Self-immolation in Taipei“, ESWN quoted two reports of the same incident that took place this Tuesday at downtown Taipei. The incident involved an old man setting fire on himself in protest of Ma Ying-jeou’s subservient way of handling the recent visit of top Chinese official Chen Yunlin. ESWN, in his usual muffled tone, wrote cynically: “Here is a comparison of the sanitized western media coverage compared to the raw coverage in local media.” Following that he quoted a very badly written short report from Reuters, and some ghastly sensational images from the Apple Daily. Then he swiftly moved on to the next topic about Chen Shui-bian’s arrest. I noted that ESWN did not quote the report in the Apple Daily at all as he had done with the Reuters report.
It’s fair enough to criticise the quality of journalistic reporting. But what is the point of quoting two extreme cases of bad reports for comparison? Wouldn’t it be more effective to use a well written report alongside a bad one to highlight the differences? Or perhaps ESWN is suggesting there is no good report of this incident available, or that the incident is not worth reporting except for sensationalistic political purposes. In either case, ESWN is saying in effect that Reuters is wasting time reporting a non-story, and they desperately need the guiding hand of a real China-hand such as Roland, even though he is either unable or unwilling to specify why the story is not worth covering.
I’m not in a position to advise readers whether this story is worth reporting; it is up to them to decide. But I can say for sure there are better quality (and more accurate) reports of this story around, both in English and in Chinese. I particularly recommend the Chinese report from Liberty Times. In fact Liberty Times is one of the few less politically driven Taiwan newspapers. It is well known for its neutral reporting in contrast with other major newspapers (such as China Times, United Daily News and Apple Daily). It is probably the only objective mainstream newspaper in Taiwan.
ESWN also failed to mention that the old man who set himself on fire had been handing out copies of a suicide note to passersby before he attempted to take his own life. You can find a very clear copy of the suicide note at this Flickr site. For those who find reading traditional Chinese characters challenging, there is an accurate English translation here. This blog also contains a first hand account of the event, as well as a link to a video.
After you have finished reading all these reports and blog posts, you may have a better idea what ESWN doesn’t want you to know.