Massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in late 2019 were disproportionately represented in US corporate media while other similar, far more deadly anti-government protests around the world occurring at roughly the same time were largely ignored. Alan MacLeod of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) conducted an in-house study of the coverage of four mass protests that all had intense political and humanitarian issues as their primary motivator. MacLeod found that Hong Kong received an order of magnitude more coverage in the US corporate press, compared to similar protests in Haiti, Chile, and Ecuador. In its analysis, FAIR wagered that the primary reason Hong Kong received so much attention from the New York Times and CNN was that the Hong Kong protests were a grassroots democratic uprising directed against “Communist authorities.”
FAIR examined major protests in Ecuador, Haiti, Chile, and Hong Kong for its study, finding that there was nearly ten times more reports about the Hong Kong protests than about the protests in the other three counties combined. Looking at these results, they attempted to determine the major reason for the imbalance, discovering that news coverage was proportionate to the size and severity of the protests. FAIR found that mass protests in Haiti resulted in far more deaths than any of the other uprisings, and that Chile’s president Sebastian Piñera attempted to declare war on the population of his country, which is arguably far more newsworthy than the entirety of the actions of protests in Hong Kong.
Looking further into the headlines regarding all protests, FAIR found that CNN and the New York Times both framed the Hong Kong protests as a part of fight for democracy, an underdog story about freedom fighters attempting to reclaim their rights and democracy. These news outlets praised the use of bombs and weapons by protestors against police, while similar actions by protestors in other countries were labeled “riots.” FAIR also found that despite the larger presence in corporate media, there was little to no difference in their analysis of the protests in Hong Kong, which rarely if ever deviated from the frame of “Democracy versus Communist authority.”
Naturally, the story of the corporate media’s own flawed and imbalanced coverage of the 2019 global wave of protests was not covered at all by corporate news outlets . Despite Time’s acknowledgment that 2019 saw a surge in civil unrest globally, that outlet’s discussion of the wave of unrest only briefly mentioned Haiti and Chile as being just two of the 47 countries that had experienced protests. The sheer number of demonstrations around the world were the focus of a number of opinion pieces published by major corporate media, but none of these articles touched on or attempted to explain why the US press carried so much content regarding Hong Kong, and comparatively miniscule reporting on every other global protest. As of March 2020, the protests in Chile, Haiti and Ecuador were still greatly under-represented in the American corporate media, hidden deep within foreign affairs columns, ignored and dismissed by establishment journalists in the US.
Source: Alan MacLeod, “With People in the Streets Worldwide, Media Focus Uniquely on Hong Kong,” FAIR, December 6, 2019, fair.org/home/with-people-in-the-streets-worldwide-media-focus-uniquely-on-hong-kong/.
Student Researcher: Craig Dent (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)