Language is important in journalism | Media

Much of the liberal Western press, knowingly or unknowingly, helps spread the gospel of white supremacy.

“China: Big spender or loan shark?”

That’s the title the BBC chose for its correspondent Celia Hatton’s report on a recently released assessment of China’s lending habits. “China is handing out at least twice as much development money as the US and other major powers, new evidence shows, most of it in the form of risky, high-interest loans from Chinese state banks,” it continues. Critics fear that the high-interest loans financing many Chinese projects will leave unsuspecting populations with sky-high debts.

Let’s pause there and think about the terms used to describe the activity. Chinese subsidies and loans are lumped together as ‘development money’ that is lent. But helpfully, the BBC tells us that “not long ago China received foreign aid”. Nowhere in Celia Hatton’s report is Chinese ‘development money’ described as ‘aid’. What is the difference?

Another BBC report from four years ago can be helpful. In it Ms. Hatton, reporting on the discovery of “China’s secret aid empire”, writes that Chinese money does not qualify for “the traditional definition of aid agreed upon by all Western industrialized countries” because Western loans “are given with the Its main goal is to develop the economic development and well-being of recipient countries.” Apparently, she says, while a staggering 93 percent of US “financial aid” fits into that bill, it does only one-fifth of what China gives.

It’s an astonishing claim. Indeed, if the vast majority of US donations benefited those who received it, there should be a lot of evidence of that. Yet a 1997 Congressional Budget Office study found that foreign aid played a marginal role at best in promoting economic development and improving human well-being and could even “impede development, depending on the environment in which that aid is used and the circumstances under which it is given”.

In fact, the truth is that Western ‘development aid’ itself is very much the equivalent of loan harking. According to a 2005 New York Times report, “Sub-Saharan Africa received a total of $294 billion in loans between 1970 and 2002. Over the same period, they repaid $268 billion and built up a mountain of debt after interest. of $210 billion.”

My aim here is not just to show that Chinese exploitation is little different from that of the West. Rather, it is to show how often the Western media uses language designed to portray Western society as somehow better, more beneficent, moral and responsible than other societies.

A few other examples illustrate this. The BBC’s Laura Bicker reports that “analysts” are “concerned” about North Korea’s development and testing of hypersonic missiles, but not that the US is doing the same, despite the latter’s extensive track record of attacking and destabilizing from other countries around the world. BBC anchors are shocked by Kim Jong Un’s ability to build missiles despite economic sanctions, and take it as proof that the North Korean leader doesn’t care about his hungry people.

Yet they have little to say about Joe Biden who maintains and continues to develop the largest arsenal in the world, despite more than 11 million American children living in households that do not have enough to eat, many Americans lack adequate health care and the American infrastructure crumbles.

Likewise, reports of officials abusing their positions for personal gain are reported differently if they occur in the West. When a Wall Street Journal investigation finds that “130 federal judges have violated U.S. law and legal ethics by overseeing lawsuits involving companies in which they or their family stocks are involved,” widespread corruption is not the preferred expression. U.S. senators who sell their votes to lobbyists are “obliged to donors” and are not guilty of bribery.

And, of course, American elections can be gerrymanded and voters suppressed, but they are never manipulated or stolen. Any suggestion that the electoral system may not really reflect voters’ wishes is immediately confused with, and rejected as part of, the “big lie” of former President Donald Trump, who falsely maintains that he won the recent presidential election.

The fact is, however, that the electoral system in the US is systematically and deliberately manipulated and who comes to power is often determined not by the voters, but by mapmakers who make an effort to undermine the vote. That’s stealing.

Language is important. Words are important. And they show that it is not just ogres like Trump who are spreading the gospel of white supremacy. Much of the liberal Western press is deeply invested in the project through the characterization of news events depending on where in the world they take place and who they happen to. Unconscious or not, it should be called for what it is.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


Leave a Comment