United Kingdom and Chinese newspaper coverage of BP Oil spill
British Petroleum came under severe criticism from around the world when in April 2010 the company lost control of marine drilling operations and caused a major oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. The disaster claimed 11 lives and injured many others. Apart from human loss, the oil spill also resulted in massive loss of precious oil as 205.8 million gallons of crude oil gushed out of the well and no amount of effort worked to cap the well.[Maureen, 2010] The well with active resources of oil was losing 53,000 barrels per day when it was finally closed in July-august 2010. But by then the oil spill had caused major damage to life and property, and it continues to cause problems for sea life in Gulf of Mexico as the latest deaths of dolphins is found connected with BP oil spill.
The world media got actively involved in the story as soon as it came out. Over the period of next few months, it followed every move made by BP to cap the well. However while the UK and Chinese media reported the events as they happened without twisting the facts, there was still some difference that could be seen in the reports from two countries. These differences were more due to cultural and political influences than journalistic quality and expertise.
While China focused on the possible consequences, UK was more interested in looking for the responsible party in the matter. It showed cultural influences because Chinese people do not believe in questioning the authority and hence the style they adopted was non-confrontational. United Kingdom media on the other hand showed sentimental and emotional attachment to one of its biggest organizations by treating it slightly more objectively and staying conservative on the issue of damage caused by the spill.
This paper compares how the media in China and United Kingdom presented the news of BP oil spills to the public. In any news coverage, there are bound to be some cultural influences, which can account for the difference in stories or their interpretation with the audience. BP oil spill 2010 was a national disaster for UK even though it did not happen in the UK but British Petroleum being one of the biggest assets of UK; it was naturally treated as a national problem when BP came under serious attack for its lack of responsible behavior in offshore drilling. For china on the other hand, there was no such sentimental or emotional attachment to British Petroleum and hence it could present a more objective view.
BP oil spill caused major furor in the news world because of varieties of reasons including possible loss of life and property. When media began reporting, some differences could be seen in the use of language, contents and placement of burden issues. United Kingdom media with the exception of the Independent was mostly sympathetic to BP because of this organization being one of the greatest to carry the name of Britain around the world. Chinese media had no such sympathy but it was mostly non-confrontational in style. It focused more on the events, their description and possible consequences. Analysis and interpretation were largely missing from news presented by Chinese media. UK media was more analytical in its approach but looked for someone other than BP to blame. China had its own judgment issues which were influenced by political matters and cultural conditioning. The influences that could most obviously cloud the judgment of Chinese media were grounded in years of rivalry between Chinese and English imperial forces and the fear of world domination by the western powers. China is no doubt a major power in the world now and is in a comfortable position to dominate the world but it cannot shrug off the struggle for domination by western powers which had resulted in many wars and many international conflicts. Hence Chinese media could very easily misconstrue the whole story even though the media often tries to stay objective. It was still not possible for China to completely ignore the west and its power hunger during the coverage of this story.
Apart from those political influences, there are some cultural influences as well. For example China focused more on risk management and consequences of irresponsible behavior while UK newspapers were more concerned with the damage that BP's reputation suffered due to this disaster and questioned the authorities in the U.S. And Gulf of Mexico instead of BP itself. This shows that there was a clear difference in reporting even though both media tried to stay objective when it came to facts and figures. News articles taken from some key newspapers in both countries showed how different political and cultural influences colored the presentation of stories. China Daily and The Shanghai Daily were more concerned with presentation of events as they occurred and their possible long-term consequences. The newspapers from UK including the Independent, The Guardian and the Mirror focused more on problematic questions of responsibility and placement of final burden.
An example of the difference is given below. This is what China Daily reported about BP oil spill in January 2011: "BP and its partners made a series of cost-cutting decisions that ultimately contributed to the oil spill that ravaged the Gulf of Mexico coast over the summer, the White House oil spill commission said on Wednesday. In its final report on causes of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, the commission said BP and its collaborators on the doomed Macondo well had lacked a system to ensure their actions were safe." (China Daily, 2011)
Talking about the same report, the Guardian of UK reported in January 2011: "The White House commission investigating the BP oil spill disaster will call today for a sweeping overhaul of the offshore oil industry, the Guardian has learned. In its final report, due to be delivered this morning, the oil spill commission will criticize the Obama administration for failing to go far enough to reform the offshore oil industry after the 20 April blow-out, sources briefed on the report said."
The difference is so stark and so clear that it's downright shocking. While China presented the facts in the reports and focused primarily on BP's actions, Guardian completely ignored role of BP and instead focused on American administration's failures. As we mentioned earlier, UK newspapers were more concerned with who should be blamed for this disaster than about risk management and consequences of disasters. It thus looked for every opportunity to release BP from its responsibility to better operation management and instead looked out for a scapegoat that it found in the form of American administration and laid all blame on poor oil industry management in the U.S. that led to the disaster.
Chinese media on the other hand learned the fact, gave description of events and focused on possible consequences of bad choices. It held BP responsible because that is what it learned from the report. Interestingly the Guardian learned something very different from the same report thus showing the glaring difference in interpretation.
However there were still some occasions when the newspapers from both counties didn't try to look for interpretation of facts but only presented the facts as they were. For example on Dec 16, 2010, the U.S. government filed a lawsuit against BP for damages due to oil spill and newspapers from both countries tried to focus only on the facts of the news. But here again some very essential differences were noticed in description of damage done by the oil spill. We shall study that but let us first read how the newspapers reported the news. People's Daily from China reported:
"U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday announced the government is suing British oil giant BP and eight others for the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill earlier this year, seeking unlimited damages….The spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitat in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Local fishing and tourism industries were devastated. Federal, state and local governments as well as businesses spent billions in cleaning up the spill and the recovery effort."
The Guardian UK carried the same news and had this to say on lawsuit:
"The suit also seeks fines and penalties under the Clean Water Act for the months when oil was spewing into the Gulf, potentially exposing the oil companies to billions in additional costs
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon on the night of 20 April killed 11 men. Government scientists estimate that 4.9m barrels of oil were released before the well was sealed in September. BP has begun to dispute the size of that estimate." (The Guardian, 12/16/2010)
The Independent and the Mirror also carried the news in similar fashion. Now for the difference in accounts: while newspapers from both countries did present the facts, it is worth noticing that China focused clearly on the extensive damage caused by the oil spill…