Friday, December 01, 2006

Different language, different message

The New York Times has carried an article today about the factual variations in the Chinese and English versions of wikipedia in the entry for Mao Zedong.

The English version describes him as "a victorious military and political leader who founded China’s modern Communist state" but also adds that he was "a man whom many saw as “a mass murderer, holding his leadership accountable for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent Chinese."

According to the New York Times, in the Chinese version, "Mao’s reputation is unsullied by mention of any death toll in the great purges of the 1950s and 1960s, like the Great Leap Forward, a mass collectivization and industrialization campaign begun in 1958 that produced what many historians call the greatest famine in human history."

I thought this is a good example of different viewpoints to cater to different audiences even if it is the same publication (in this case website). It is hard to say whether this is deliberate because after all, Wikipedia is an open encyclopedia where viewers edit the information.

But this article reminded me of a recent discussion that took place in our class on "Beat Reporting."We were speculating whether the new Al-Jazeera channel in English would have the same content and tone as the original Al-Jazeera in Arabic. One theory that emerged was that Al Jazeera might be changing their overall image and viewpoint by employing so many western, english speaking reporters. The other theory was that the English channel and the Arabic channel might have little in common, since they cater to different audiences anyways.

In today's "transparent" world( China is the exception I suppose), is it really possible for news organisations to send divergent messages to different audiences without getting caught? Maybe its not that difficult.

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