In its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting millions of people worldwide, the western media brought China, where the coronavirus was first detected, into the spotlight. This study examines the image construction of China from administrative and economic perspectives in The New York Times through a qualitative content analysis. The analysis reveals news frames that highlight unsubstantiated criticism of governance measures, lack of nuance and an absence of alternative narratives during the initial months of pandemic coverage.
The Covid-19 health crisis spawned massive media coverage on China while also providing global audiences with plenty of essential public health information. China is a key global player, both politically and economically. To explore the construction of China's image from administrative and economic perspectives, this study examined news articles on China and COVID-19 published in The New York Times between January and March 2020, encapsulating three initial phases of the unfolding outbreak.
A qualitative content analysis revealed five main frames in the data sample: Disease mismanagement, Repressive political regime, Poor healthcare and sanitation, Negative public reactions, and Economic impact. The New York Times portrayed China as a country with a repressive political regime and a poor healthcare system. Coverage highlighted disease management failures by the government leading to negative public reactions among the local populace. Further, the representation of the Chinese economy was presented through the lens of risk and uncertainty, a departure from previous depictions of China as a promising market. Aside from some accurate criticisms, the overall tone concerning China was dominantly negative. Much of the coverage was unidimensional, with little or no fact-checking. The chapter discusses how the media function as diplomatic devices and act as key players in building or demolishing credibility through agenda setting functions. The coverage examined depicts a selective media ideology that strengthens and embeds the process of othering rather than embracing journalism that privileges ethics, sensitivity, and international harmony.
The book chapter is available as part of an edited book that explores recent Covid-19 narratives, titled, COVID-19, Racism and Politicization: Media in the Midst of a Pandemic, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Further information can be found on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing website.
The book was reviewed by Berlin-based IDN InDepth News.
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