And the gold medal for poor reporting goes to...?

The Olympics, a worldwide sporting event which promotes friendly rivalries, the human spirit, and above all else, fantastic sports and fantastic athletes who proudly represent their countries on a global stage. Of course, the Olympics also brings with it petty arguments and shoddy reporting, as media outlets from various countries fight to show their deep love for their own country.

This Olympics has certainly not been short of attention for China, both positive and negative. We have the worldwide attention on the loveable swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who captured the hearts of people around the globe with honest thinking and charming reactions. However, on the reverse side, we have seen patriotism go too far, devolving into petty arguing between two countries, as in the case of Sun Yang and Mack Horton. And as the Olympics drew to a close last night, and the final rankings were revealed, putting the USA in 1st, the UK in 2nd, and China in 3rd could we finally expect an end to the Olympic bickering?

Medal table from Google

China has finished in a top two spot consecutively since 2004, and their fall to third place this year has understandably disappointed the Chinese, and some netizens and reporters are taking to the internet to vent their frustrations. In a since-deleted post, Xinhua’s official Twitter account tweeted the following:

Screenshot of the deleted Twitter post, by Xinhua News, taken from MailOnline

In what seems to be a case where a social media editor got a bit too emotional and tweeted without running it past their manager (we get it, we have a social media team too), the post rather bluntly expressed the author's disappointment at the result, but it was quickly deleted and replaced with a more generic tweet:

Updated post, by Xinhua News

When we consider that (almost) all social media accounts are run by real humans with real emotions, we can begin to extend some sympathy towards the editor who let their emotions get the better of them, and tweeted their frustration a little too early. It may be a case of being somewhat of a sore loser, however, just as there are sore-losers, there are also ‘sore winners’. The British media is definitely highlighting exactly how not to win gracefully, as media outlets here begin to run articles mocking China and Chinese outlets for showing disappointment, accusing the country of ‘finding excuses’ and being a sore loser. In particular, an article published by MailOnline today called China out, teasing the country in its headline:

Screenshot of MailOnline article

The article is a very poignant example of the kind of ‘sore-winner’ mindset that exists following any sporting event. But why? As the article states, Chinese state media ‘insists China came second in the rankings’, which does indeed sound like a rather petty way to react to the final result.

But… did they?

The problems with skewing perspectives

We took a look at the ‘offending’ report, which MailOnline claims shows China’s sore-loser attitude. Titled “Rio Olympics: How China charmed the world” and published by Xinhua, the article summarises the human side of the Olympic games, and talks in depth about the various Chinese athletes that caught the attention of news outlets across the globe. Throughout the article, the authors (one of which is Chinese, and one of which appears to be Western based on his name) praise the Chinese athletes and talk about the immaterial successes of these games for China. It sounds like rather standard post-Olympic reporting to us. That is until we stumble across this one line, towards the end of the article;

"A total of 70 medals - 26 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze - put China second in the overall standings.”

Is this it? Is this the line which shows how the Chinese state refuses to accept the result? From a surface level, it appears to show just what MailOnline claims, however, this doesn’t consider the outlet it was posted on. Whilst it may have been published by Xinhua, which is a state-governed news outlet, it actually appeared exclusively on the English language version, which has its own content independent of the actual Xinhua media company in China. Why is this important? The English homepage for Xinhua is notorious for being extremely rooted in propaganda, perhaps even more so than Chinese language state news. This is because the medium is presented entirely in English, and is deliberately written to present China in the best possible light. For this reason, it is slightly unfair for MailOnline to take this article and assume this to be an official state response to the Olympic result.

Secondly, the quote itself was taken out of context. Sitting on its own, it is easy to believe that this quote suggests Chinese state media refuses the result. Unfortunately, the quote merely suggested that, when calculating the actual total of medals, China did indeed come second in the overall standings. Whilst Xinhua undoubtedly reported this to present China in a better light, MailOnline is no better for deliberately focusing on this and accusing Xinhua of ‘insisting they came second’.

The fundamental flaw in MailOnline’s article is the fact that they chose one report to base their entire argument upon. It is not difficult at all to search major Chinese news outlets, both state-owned and otherwise, to see the real picture of the Chinese response. For the sake of clarity, let’s begin by looking at Xinhua’s Chinese version, which is arguably the outlet closest to the government;

Screenshot of Xinhua Medal Table

These results, clearly shown on the official Olympic page, show the UK as second, and China as third. If Xinhua were ‘insisting they came second’, wouldn’t their official medal table, shown to all visitors to the website, reflect this?

They aren’t the only media outlet clearly showing the real result, either.

From top-left: People Online; QQ; Sina; Sohu; CCTV

All major news outlets clearly display the result on their Olympic pages. If, as MailOnline seems to suggest in their article, the state were suggesting the result was that China came second, why would all major Chinese media outlets clearly display the real result on their website? It is quite simply an obvious example of how reporters use one mildly-related quote to base an entire article on and present an extremely biased take on a particular issue.

The reason why I personally, as someone who also curates content for the internet, find issue with this is because of the response it creates within the comments attached to the article. Nowadays, being an online content producer is more than just publishing content – we should consider the implications that our content might have, particularly depending on our audience. In this case, the MailOnline misinterpreted information to show a very unfair image of China, and transferred that misunderstanding to their audience, one which for the most part does not fully understand China. Whilst people criticise the Chinese government for censoring the internet, on the reverse side, the freedom of the Western internet encourages online discussion boards and comments to be flooded with violent attacks, and the MailOnline’s comment section for this article is no exception, with British commenters taking to their keyboards to post derogatory comments, some bordering on outright racist.

The fundamental fact of the matter is that this is just a sporting event, which is why the whole thing is particularly ridiculous when considering how people are reacting to the result. From sore-losers to sore-winners, everyone seems to be as bad as each other. In reality, the general consensus in China, at least on most Chinese social media platforms, is one of disappointment and some frustration. Whilst some might cry of unfair judging and mistreatment of Chinese, I for one no longer blame them. Especially when considering that news outlets in the West make deliberate attempts to portray China negatively, impacting public opinions on a country that otherwise functions similarly to our own, I begin to understand why the Chinese look upon the West with some reservation, and tend to think that we have a bias against China. The fact of the matter is, most people do. We are consistently conditioned by our news and media to view China with skepticism, because of China's history, and indeed our own. Regardless, in the realm of sports, losing is disappointing, and winning is gratifying. No matter where you come from, the response would be the same. Suddenly, the positive attention China was starting to receive, due to its broad array of interesting and endearing athletes, is being quickly overshadowed by reporting set on cementing a poor image of China in the mind of a public, which had only just started seeing the more human side of this generally misunderstood and misinterpreted country. Fair reporting is important, no matter what your outlet represents.