New Chinese language television channel covers issues missed in mainstream media

By Michelle R. Smith The Associated Press
Wednesday October 24, 2001

BRISBANE — Many Americans heard about terrorism, security, and a few words about human rights in the few minutes ABC, NBC and CBS spent covering President Bush’s first trip to China. 

But NBC’s Tom Brokaw never mentioned Taiwan pulling out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai, the latest incident in a decades-long power struggle with China. 

CBS’s Dan Rather didn’t mention the anti-American protests in Indonesia and Malaysia. And ABC’s World News Tonight didn’t report that every resident of Shanghai was given five days vacation during the conference. 

Viewers in the San Francisco Bay area saw these stories and much more Friday on KTSF, the only station in the United States to produce its own nightly Chinese language newscasts. 

U.S. census data shows Asians grew faster than any other group in the United States during the 1990s. Those people, many of them Chinese-Americans, represent a “subterranean market” with a hunger for news about China, says Orville Schell, Dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Journalism. 

“For Chinese in America, China’s always a huge story,” Schell said. Chinese-language media “is very effective, and does reach an enormous number of people.” 

KTSF, an independent station based in suburban Brisbane, has been producing news since 1989, when Mei Ling Sze, a television journalist from Hong Kong, helped launch “Cantonese News.” 

“The Chinese community saw there was a big vacuum,” said Sze, who is anchor and Managing Editor of the nightly, hour-long program. “The community wanted quality newscasts.” 

Sze later helped launch “Mandarin News,” which now airs for a half-hour nightly. 

With an editorial staff of just 14, KTSF takes video from CNN, Hong Kong’s ATV News, Taiwan’s Power TV, and Beijing-based CCTV, and writes its own stories for its Chinese-speaking audience.  

Also, five reporters cover local stories. 

Of the 2,433,000 Chinese in the United States, 980,642 live in California, most concentrated in the San Francisco Bay area, according to the latest census. 

The station’s audience isn’t measured by Nielsen Media Research, but a study commissioned by KTSF found 86 percent of Cantonese-speaking households in the Bay Area were tuning in on any given night, according to Michael Sherman, KTSF’s General Manager. 

“Most of these households are monolingual,” Sherman said. “We almost have a captive audience.” 

Those numbers are borne out in the popularity of Chinese-language newspapers. The Mandarin-language World Journal, owned by a Taiwanese company, claims to be the biggest Chinese-language paper in the United States, with a North American circulation of approximately 350,000. Hong Kong-based Cantonese newspaper Sing Tao Daily disputes this, and claims it is the biggest. 

For many Chinese in America, these are the only sources of news they can access. 

“The Chinese-language news is very much a news ghetto. Relatively few people who watch it are getting any other news,” says Schell. “It’s the linguistic barrier.” 

Though bound together by language, the ethnic Chinese population in the United States includes widely diverging viewpoints, and Sze tries to reflect the different perspectives of mainland China, Taiwan and the United States in her news judgments. 

She keeps a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights close at hand to use as her guiding principle, she says. 

KTSF’s nightly Mandarin-language call-in show “China Crosstalk,” hosted by Jay Stone Shih, must also find that balance. 

“We talk about facts. We try to stay away from rhetoric,” he said. 

Schell says Shih’s program is succeeding. “It’s as balanced as it gets,” Schell says. “The Chinese language media was once very anti-communist. Now it tends to tread very gingerly on those issues.” 

Mainstream American media is not spared the critical eye Chinese have used to view Chinese government-sponsored news for years. 

Shih, Sze and Sherman all point to Chinese-Americans’ reaction to the conflict last spring over the U.S. spy plane that went down on Hainan Island. 

“Their first instinct was not to trust American media,” Sherman said. “They wanted to hear Chinese sources on the same thing.” 


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