By David Bandurski — On the heels of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Internet freedoms last week, China’s English-language Global Times characterized her remarks as “a disguised attempt to impose [U.S.] values on other cultures in the name of democracy.” The newspaper then dragged out another snarl word to denounce Clinton’s overtures on freedom of speech: “information imperialism.”
Fond as we are of buzzwords here at CMP, we decided to pry a bit deeper into this term. We don’t claim that our findings are exhaustive — and we encourage reader input — but here they are.
The earliest use we could find of the term “information imperialism” appeared in the September 26, 2002, edition of People’s Daily. (I would show you the actual news page, but People’s Daily began charging for use of its digital archives on January 1 this year.)
The piece, apparently drawn from remarks made by the editor-in-chief of Indonesia’s Antara (Indonesian National News Agency), is called “Media on Both Sides [of the China-ASEAN Relationship] Should Build High-level Dialogue.”
The version still available online is clipped, including just the first three paragraphs, but the original newspaper piece offers a much lengthier call for cooperation between Chinese media and the media of ASEAN member states:

First, media on the two sides should build high-level dialogue, and carry out high-level exchange at various levels and in various areas, promoting mutual understanding and trust between media, and building constructive cooperative relationships. I hope that media from various organizations in ASEAN member states can come to China and see China’s development for themselves, furthering understanding of China’s current situation. The Indonesian delegation hopes that after the hosting of the first forum in China, other ASEAN nations can host annual conferences in rotation.
Secondly, media from both sides should strengthen cooperation and exchange, furthering dialogue and cooperation on a range of issues. Differences between the two sides should be resolved on the basis of mutual respect and the seeking of common ground. The media of China and ASEAN should carry out so-called media diplomacy (媒体外交).
Lastly, I want to argue that in the 21st century, China will exercise great influence over the Asia-Pacific region. China has the fastest developing economy in the world, and it will establish strong economic partnerships with Southeast Asian nations. We have a responsibility as news media to go and support this sort of harmonious cooperative relationship between China and ASEAN member nations . . .
Su Huiming (苏惠明), chief editor of the international edition of the Singapore Straits Times, wrote in a recent editorial that the greatest challenge facing Asian media was information imperialism. While we have access to a wealth of information, all of this information is in fact full of Western ideological prejudices. [NOTE: A reporter for the Singapore Strait’s Times assured CMP that 1) there is no “international edition” of the newspaper and 2) that no-one named Su Huiming has ever been an editor at the paper].
When 90 percent of all the news reports published by publications across the world are from the three major newswires of the West, including Reuters, the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP), how can we possibly tell our readers that “we truly know what is going on in our world”? In fact, news reports today are not comprehensive, are not impartial, are not objective. So we must clearly recognize that in this process, the world as it is reflected in these reports is not very complete. For years now, the West has monopolized media across the world. We certainly can call this a kind of information imperialism.
We Asians must oppose a worldview that is monopolized by Westerners. We also have the ability to break through the monopoly of Western newswires, to break through the control of news events by Western newswires. News breaking in the Asian region needs to be reported by Asians. We can not push the responsibility we have to report this news onto these outsiders who do not understand the Asian region.

There seemed to be a small spike in attention to the issue of information and “imperialism” in 2007.
A March 15, 2007, article in China’s Globe Weekly, a weekly magazine of the official Xinhua News Agency, mentioned fears of the Internet as “information imperialism” in the context of anti-globalization protests outside the World Economic Forum in Davos.
But here the term was used outside the us-versus-the-West construct of the earlier People’s Daily article:

In recent years, under attack from a wave of economic globalization, the door to India’s retail market has begun to open. While the opposition has not flagged, it seems there is no way to stop the march of Wal-Mart into India.
“Globalization” has at the same time put pressure on all developed nations. On January 24 [2007], the annual World Economic Forum opened in the the small city of Davos in eastern Switzerland . . . Outside the meeting, a series of protests and demonstrations went on all across Switzerland [in opposition to the meetings].
In the view of some anti-globalization activists, globalization is a form of “new imperialism.” The Internet has now become a form of “information imperialism,” the World Trade Organization amounts to “market imperialism,” the International Monetary Fund amounts to “financial imperialism” and the United Nations is a form of “political and foreign policy imperialism.”

Also in March 2007, scholar Pan Qiuyu (潘秋瑜) wrote in China’s Legal System and Society journal about the threats posed to China as Western media and culture infiltrated (as he described it) the country. Pan opted for a different buzzword: “media imperialism” (媒介帝国主义):

Against this vast backdrop, our nation’s media industry gained some space by which it could demonstrate its strength and uniqueness. At the same time, however, the entry of overseas capital into our nation’s news industry, the influence of Western ideologies on our people, and the infiltration of our cultural sector by overseas culture, have all exerted new pressure and presented new challenges to our country politically, economically, and culturally, as well as to our media industry. The struggle for leadership in the arena of discourse through the media has become obvious [as a national challenge]. Politicians with ulterior motives in the West routinely use the media to disseminate deliberate lies and verbal attacks. For example, our nation’s scholars have already used mountains of unassailable facts to reveal the “demonization” of China by American media. Moreover, they [Americans] have used the hegemonic media power under their own control to spread the so-called “China threat theory.”
Therefore, giving our [media] students the ability to obtain, analyze and transmit information in the the information age is just one aspect and task of media education in our country. Developing them into qualified individual citizens with a sense of the times, a high-level of political sensitivity [for the party line and China’s unique national circumstances] and a sense of social responsibility should be the higher demand of media education. Moreover, we must strengthen students’ alertness to media hegemony, so that they recognize the harmful nature of media imperialism and the importance of the independent development of our nation’s news media . . .

Finally, in August 2007, the term “information imperialism” was mentioned once again in the context of China’s media relations with ASEAN member states.
Akhmad Kusaeni, deputy editor-in-chief of Indonesia’s Antara news agency, delivered an address at a “10+3” forum (10 ASEAN member states plus China, Japan and South Korea), hosted by China’s official People’s Daily newspaper, in which he railed against “Western domination of the world view” through its news media, with special scorn reserved for “parachute journalists” [original Chinese HERE]:

Yes, my friends, it is not right for Western news agencies to control information on Asia. It is no fair for Western media to dictate what they wish to cover and how they should cover the news in Asia, our very own backyard. It is not fair they call the shots and set the agenda as to what stories should or should not appear in the headlines of Asian media . . .
Ladies and gentlemen . . . We must resist Western domination of the worldview. We must fight information imperialism.
Developing countries, including those in Asia, have called for the establishment of a new order of spreading information since the 1960s when they were fighting against unfair information controls exercised by Western developed nations. And yet, the imbalances and differences of information flow between the developing and developed countries have not been narrowed by disputes for decades. Even now, there is a gap within the world information flow. And that is why the world is not flat . . .
Asian media must convey Asian opinions and strive to end disequilibrium in the global media where the loudest voices are of Western origin. We as Asian media must be heard. We need to strengthen media cooperation and together deliver Asian voice on international arena. The image of Asia depends on how the world media describe it .

Relations between the Indonesian news service and China have continued strong. Back in October 2009, Antara chief executive Ahmad Yusuf met with He Ping (何平), the editor-in-chief of Xinhua News Agency, to discuss further cooperation and exchange.
I’m not quite sure what to make of these relationships and views on journalism between China and ASEAN members, at least as glimpsed through China’s own official media. For the moment, I’ll avoid speculating and just leave it there.
In closing, I would like to point readers to an interesting and related story about media dialogues among ASEAN nations that appeared last year.
On October 1, forty-five delegates from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia reportedly attended the general assembly of the 16th Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ).
Quoted in Malaysia’s News Straits Times on October 2, 2009, a Malaysian government minister reportedly urged journalists from ASEAN member states to “work together” for a “common struggle and destiny.’
Whether it is in any way representative of how journalists in Southeast Asia view their own roles and responsibilities, I cannot say. But the News Straits Times article voiced a view on the professional obligations of “Asian” journalists that I certainly found unsettling — that journalists from ASEAN member states should refrain from critical coverage of other member states as a matter of course.

Journalists in Asean member nations should work together if they want to be a force to be reckoned with, Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam said yesterday.
He said they should cooperate as they shared a common struggle and destiny.
“If we fail as a region, we have also failed as a nation,” he told a press conference after opening the 16th Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ) general assembly yesterday . . .
National Union of Journalists Malaysia president Norilah Daud, supporting the call for Asean journalists to have a single voice, said the matter would be raised at the assembly.
“We have our Asean code of ethics. We cannot write negatively about each other’s countries as we are comrades.”

Personally, I would be among the first to wait in line for news coverage from a credible Southeast Asian newswire — and I would camp out overnight for a credible Chinese one.
But with all this language about comrades and the ethical imperative of having a “single voice,” I think I’d prefer for the moment to stick with the “big three.”
[Posted by David Bandurski, January 28, 2010, 9:55am HK]
[Homepage image by summervillain available at under Creative Commons license].

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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