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Briton executed in China over drugs

A British man convicted of drug smuggling was executed in China today. BBC’s coverage of the story lacks balance, fairness, objectivity and impartiality.

BBC top story of British man executed in China

Top story on BBC news front page on 29 Dec

The British man Akmal Shaikh was executed for smuggling 4 kgs of heroin into Urumqi, Xinjiang in the north-west of China.

UK government and Akmal’s families made repeated pleas for clemency and visited him in Urumqi this weekend.

BBC has been following the story heavily in the past few days, and the execution became its top story today.

The headline: good and/or bad

On its news front page, the headline is “China executes Briton over drugs”.

By criteria of headline writing, this is undoubtedly a good one. With just five words, it tells who did what and how and why. It even hinted where and when.

Besides, it uses an active verb. This is where the editor shows off his wisdom.

People who get killed usually become the subject in a headline, e.g. “Man killed in harbour car plunge in Cornwall”, and “Iran protesters killed, including Mousavi’s nephew”. However, the editor obviously wants to put the blame on China.

Let’s compare BBC headline and my headline for this post.

  • China executes Briton over drugs
  • Briton executed in China over drugs

Is “China” a specific person who did the execution? Which appeals to the British readers more, China or Briton? And does two letters longer really matter here?

Now let’s click to read the story. Oops, the headline changed. Now it reads “British man said to be mentally ill executed in China”. Interesting, hah?

Wait a minute. What is that “said to be”? If you are not sure of something, make sure of it, or don’t talk about it. How can you even put it in a headline?

EU national Vs. Briton

Let’s move on. Here comes the third paragraph:

The execution took place despite repeated calls from his family and the British government for clemency.

This sounds ridiculous to me, well, because of the structure of the sentence, especially the use of that “despite”. UK government and his family called for clemency, so what? Should China let the man go just because some guys made the plea?

The prime minister Gordon Brown also made fun of himself by saying “am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted”.

Okay, you are the almighty PM, so whatever you request, we have to grant. Is that what you mean?

However, this is not the worst part. One paragraph down, the following sentence stands out.

Mr Shaikh is the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years.

If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that BBC used EU national referring to Mr. Akmal Shaikh. What’s the point, please? Is this impartial? What are you trying to “achieve” here, soliciting sympathy from other EU members so that they will join you condemning China? You wish.

Keep journalists code of conduct OUT of mind

Two paragraphs down, BBC brought up the man’s mental illness issue again. Let me give you some key points from the article:

  • family said he suffered from bipolar disorder
  • They said he had been delusional
  • Mr Brown: particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.

According to Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC World service and Global News Division, “Balance means arranging things in equal or correct proportions to one another. ”

If BBC is indeed balanced, where are the explanations from the Chinese side?

Don’t tell me you can’t get China’s officials to talk. They have explained this a long time ago. Besides, your Chinese correspondent should have told you about the procedure of asking for mental illness verification in court.

If you keep on reading, you’ll see all quotes are against China. Don’t you think this is biased?

The article also quotes legal charity Reprieve’s communication director saying that “he (Akmal) was frankly failed by China and by their legal system”.

An opinionated and false accusation. Can China sue for defamation? The quotation marks doesn’t prevent you from being sued.

Role of media

In the past few days, the Chinese media remained absolutely silent about the story. Equally oddly, the British media showed excessive enthusiasm while the public didn’t appear to be very much interested.

After all, it is a man who committed felony in China and was trialed and sentenced in accordance with China’s laws. It’s a criminal case, as simple as that.

What the UK government and Mr. Shaikh’s family were trying to do was to ask the Chinese government to overrule the court’s decision.

However, aren’t they used to criticise the Chinese government for their intervention into judicial independence?

What do they apply double systems when a British man is involved?

And what role have the British media played? Is it right for them to allocate so much space or air time for the drug smuggler story? Are they acting as the mouthpiece of the British government as they always accuse their Chinese counterparts for doing so?

All in all, can a public service broadcaster really stay independent, willingly or unwillingly?

Update at 10:00 am: The Telegrpaph also puts the story on its front page. Their reporting is much better in terms of following journalistic code of conducts.

  1. December 30, 2009 at 1:05 am

    i think this is a really good blog. i really can’t agree with all of it, but i like the way you went though the story line by line to argue your points.

  2. December 30, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you for the nice words, Jason. You make the blogger want to blog more. LoL~~

    You see, there has been no reporting about this story at all today.

    News is news for one day, isn’t it?

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