Be mindful of political correctness

Updated: 2010-07-20 07:51

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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I have been an admirer of the US Constitution's First Amendment since my school days.

Even if it may be a politically incorrect thing to say, like the many similar instances in my 20 plus years with the paper, I continue to hold my job.

Yet two American journalists, 44-year-old senior CNN Middle East editor Octavia Nasr and 89-year-old White House correspondent Helen Thomas have not been as fortunate. They have both lost their jobs for saying things that are politically incorrect in the United States.

Thomas, who shares the same Aug 4 birthday as US President Barack Obama, was forced to retire for telling a rabbi on May 27 that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine."

Octavia, who had worked at CNN for 20 years, was fired immediately after she posted a Twitter message expressing admiration for Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Faldlallah, who passed away recently.

Although Nasr later explained that she was referring to Fadlallah's attitude towards women's rights as the cleric had ordered a ban on the so-called "honor killing" of women and permitting women the right to hit their husbands if attacked first, CNN would not tolerate her different viewpoint.

I am not trying to argue whether Nasr and Thomas were right or wrong, or whether Fadlallah should be loved or loathed. What is deeply disturbing in these and several other recent instances is whether there is true freedom of expression in the US news media, or whether reporters and editors ought to say what is politically correct in mainstream society, instead of what is true according to their sharp observations.

Would news organizations like CNN want Nasr to be dishonest and say that she hates Fadlallah? Or would we like to see Thomas, who outlasted nine US presidents covering the White House since the 1950s, to leave just because she said a few offensive words, for which she apologized later?

The two cases show that the most trusted news may not be that trustworthy after all since things politically incorrect have been filtered out, or censored.

While CNN does not like its senior editors to express a personal view different from what most Americans hold, in order to remain "objective" as some describe, it has taken sides for years by airing the CNN Tribute to Fallen Soldiers, saluting American troops who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By producing such a program, CNN shows that it cannot take an objective attitude in reporting the wars the US is engaging in. The thousands of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers and civilians who have perished in the wars have rarely been covered by CNN and other news media organizations.

That bias has been proven time and again when US news organizations embed their journalists with the army and they then file stories that are sympathetic to the US military.

For long, the US media derided countries like China for conducting patriotism campaigns, but a recent report eulogizing an act of patriotism in El Paso, Texas, goes way beyond my imagination.

CNN and many others reported 10 days ago that a homeless man, Gustus Bozarth, had rescued a national flag - and folded it military style - from a rainstorm in the city, calling it a worthy patriotic act.

Many, such as Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, also a well-known legal expert on the First Amendment and matters relating to freedom of speech, are now worried about the survival of the US news media under great financial difficulties.

What seems to be more worrisome is the political correctness that is intimidating excellent journalists.

The Chinese news media landscape, though beset by many problems, has become more open and professional in the last 30 years, according to several well-respected American journalists I talked to lately. They also rated highly Al- Jazeera English, an English-language TV channel headquartered in the Middle East.

It seems that even as the journalistic environment is deteriorating in the US, those in other parts of the world, often underreported or unfairly reported by the Western news media, have been more aggressive in telling the untold stories, promoting debates and challenging established perceptions.


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