One contextual tool that has been widely manipulated in international events by both sides is language translations and mistranslations. Due to the language barrier between the Chinese and American people, the audience on each side can only hear the other party's voice through media's translations, which by no means, may be immune to contextual framing.
Given the sensitive time, sensitive location and sensitive nature of this collision, both parties would have adopted all kinds of contextual framing techniques to occupy the moral high ground, and accuse the other side of wrongdoing. Since the foreign policy report in China is strictly controlled by the Communist Party, the news event portrayed by the Chinese media would be more homogenous and one-sided.
H2a: By adopting similar contextual framing techniques, both mainstream newspapers tend to depict their own side as morally superior, whereas the other party as the wrongdoer. As to the degree of such an inclination, the Chinese media will outscore the American counterparts in this area. Furthermore, because of the strict control of information gathering and disseminating in China, the researcher assumes that Chinese newspaper would only publicize the official version of the event released by the government. As to the relevant foreign policy and result assessment, there would be only one interpretation and evaluation in Chinese newspaper. In contrast, the American newspaper would be more likely to quote the sources from both sides, though not objectively either.
H2b: Although both sides rely on their own government sources as their prime news sources, the Chinese newspaper are less likely to quote sources from the other side than are the American newspapers.
The blocking of the free flow of information, though weakened by the Internet expansion in recent years, has still been carefully and successfully executed in international news coverage, either under the pressure from the government directly, or by the influences from certain interest groups. Such an intentional omission creates either a time lag or an information lag in people's reasoning. As a result, the audience's logical judgment may be distorted to a preferred direction.
To frame this sensitive international standoff into a certain stereotype, and to support this frame with persuasive evidence, the mass media on both sides would emphasize some favorable elements and downplay or neglect those negative evidence or developments. Similarly, the time order published by the mass media would be different from the actual time order of the event.
H3a: Both sides will deliberately ignore or withhold some unfavorable evidence and change the actual time order of some key elements during their news coverage. Since the Chinese media face more direct pressure from the government and the ruling party to serve the established foreign policy, it would be common for them to curtail or distort the existing truth. As to the American side, the fierce competitions in the information market reduce the possibility of completely withholding certain facts.
However, downplaying one side's argument while highlighting the other side's statement was the most frequently utilized tactic.
With regard to the extent and degree of such a maneuver, Chinese newspapers are more frequently to withhold certain unfavorable message than that of the U.S. newspaper.
Chapter Two: Review of the Literature.
Role of the Media in News Presentation. In the study of mass communication, gatekeeping refers to the inevitable process of news selection by the media where various news items are either allowed into the gates (i.e. selected) or rejected out of the gates (i.e. discarded) through this labyrinth of editorial prerogative. Even though selected, the messages that finally reach the audience are only the final screened, structured and interpreted products of the media which is merely a symbolic reality in contrast with social reality (White, 1950). Gatekeeping has been defined as the selection of media topics that are to be presented to different audiences through different types of media.
The gatekeeping function in practice may include reporters, copywriters, sub-editors, editors and, to a lesser extent, media owners as well as the government, various pressure groups, political parties and single-issue groups (Peterson, 2001). While these gatekeepers may have no direct influence over media content, they are able to exert considerable pressure as to who has access to what information (White, 1950). Most larger organization with public relations departments will inevitably be faced with some bad news that must be covered. For example, projections of earnings might fall short of expectations, sales goals will be unfulfilled, employees will lose their jobs, and so forth; however, it is always important to report such unfavorable news faithfully and accurately.
The American Position. The initial news coverage of the spy plane collision was straightforward and reported the Chinese reaction. According to Elisabeth Rosenthal and David E. Sanger article in the New York Times (April 2, 1001), U.S. Plane in China after it Collides with Chinese Jet":
United States Navy spy plane on a routine surveillance mission near the Chinese coast collided on Sunday with a Chinese fighter jet that was closely tailing it. The American plane made an emergency landing in China, and the United States said it was seeking the immediate return of the 24 crew members, all said to be in good condition, and of the sophisticated aircraft and all its intelligence equipment (A3).
The article also reported a sufficient amount of details to provide its readers with the facts about the incident, as well as a quote from a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman who reported a search was underway for the missing Chinese pilot, as well as an "angry statement on Sunday night saying that 'the U.S. side has total responsibility for this event'" (Rosenthal & Sanger, 2001, p. A3). According to the editors of International Journal on World Peace (2001), the initial American position on the spy plane collision incident was succinct and remained that way throughout the negotations: "The United States had every right under international law to be in the air space it was occupying and the fact that it was engaged in intelligence-gathering activities was sanctioned by international law" (p. 99). Furthermore, the Americans maintained that the highly maneuverable Chinese fighter had most likely ventured too close to the slower-maneuvering American plane, thereby causing the collision and the crash and emergency landing that resulted.
The United States also insisted that the American plane retained the privileges of American sovereignty, that it was not to be entered by a foreign power, and that it and its crew should be immediately returned. The Chinese government declined this interpretation and consistently demanded and insisted that neither the plane nor the crew would be released until an appropriate investigation was concluded. The detention of the crew lasted for a period of 11 days and concluded with the American's offering a statement of regret ("we are very sorry") for its unauthorized intrusion into Chinese air space without verbal clearance (China-Us Relations, 2001).
Although the collision was considered to be important in its own right, the incident was made much more so because it provided the opportunity for a clarification or redefinition of Sino-American relations. The editors of International Journal on World Peace emphasize that, "There is little doubt that the Chinese government perceives American surveillance of its shores and radar installations as a provocative act and that it seized upon the opportunity this incident provided to express its displeasure" (China-Us Relations, 2001, p. 100). Despite the need for such assertions, though, there is much at stake for both countries that transcend the collision of two military aircraft, notwithstanding the associated loss of life in this case. The accession of China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its increasingly important trade relations with the United States make any such incident seem to pale in comparison, but the fact remains that China felt compelled to do something in response, but things have changed in fundamental ways since the days of the Cold War when the Communists were clear in their objectives and unambiguous in their military threats.
There were also other factors involved in the Chinese decision on how it should frame its response. Both the U.S. And China, are of course, nuclear powers, and any response from the Chinese would have to take this fact into consideration; furthermore, relations between China and the U.S. have been troubled by the "renegade" Taiwan, and there was also the pending issue of its efforts to secure the next Olympic Games, which was still up in the air at this point in time.
Further complicating the issue was the fact that China faced a new, untested American administration that had publicly declared a shift in Sino-American relations from the Clinton policy of treating China as a "strategic partner" to the Bush policy of "strategic competitor" (China-Us Relations, 2001, p. 100). Therefore, the spy plane incident served as a "testing ground" for both the American and Chinese policymakers.