How AFP tailored a report to mislead readers

The hot news in Taiwan these two days is the violent resistance to the government's removal of the final symbol of authoritarian regime -- the "dazhong zhizheng"『大中至正』 plaque referring to dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) at the gateway to Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. A bloody crime was committed by a pro-China supporter during the confrontation.

As the foreign media often report biased news of Taiwan following the propaganda put forward by the local pro-KMT media, I am curious for how they are gonna cover this.

It won't take much time before one is spotted. AFP, Agence Frence-Press, claimed to be "the world's oldest established news agency", can't wait to lead the world on manipulating news to serve the particular political agenda of some particular party.

Go see Michael's AFP Again *Sigh* for details on how AFP uses carefully chosen words in their recent report "Taiwan leader defends move to downplay Chiang legacy" to make the story one-sided. What I am going to point out here is how AFP uses selected photos and legends to further achieve that goal.

AFP displayed 3 photos on the same page of that article Michael mentioned.

The first photo shows Chiang Kai-shek supporters sitting on the ground, holding a big photo of Chiang's. The legend says:

"Dozens of pro-opposition Kuomintang supporters display a picture of late president Chiang Kai-shek"

Note what this photo and the legend tramsmit:

  1. Peaceful demonstration of the pro-Chiang supporters, which is not the whole story;

  2. No mention of the fact that Chiang is considered a dictator in the eyes of many Taiwanese;

  3. No mention that there are many people showed up to support the removal of the『大中至正』 plaque, creating a wrong impression that Taiwanese are against this removal.

(Screen shot of photo and legend #1)

By itself this photo probably won't cause too much misleading. But AFP didn't stop here. The second photo is an arrest of a truck driver by police, with legend:

"The driver(C) of a truck is detained by police during a demonstration in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall"

(Screen shot of photo and legend #2)
Without informing the readers the cause of arrest, this photo and legend might give the readers a wrong impression that Taiwan police arrest demonstrators for no reason.

The fact is, the truck driver, Peng Sheng-lu (彭盛露), drove his truck at high speed into a group of people, dragging a journalist underneath the truck, and kept going for 10 meters despite that surrounding people shouting that a guy was under the truck.

His violent behavior resulted in serious injuries of several journalists. The one who was dragged underneath, ETTV cameraman Wang Jui-chang (王瑞璋), had to be taken care in an intensive unit of a hospital overnight before it was confirmed that the injury was not life threatening.

Peng denied being intentional, but many witness and police said otherwise, judging from the fact that Peng stopped and charged several times before he was finally stopped:


Peng committed total of 5 crimes, including one felony of attempted murder. That's why he got arrested. The news was all over local media, yet AFP reporter skillfully hides the crucial criminal fact from her readers but revealed only that a demonstrator was arrested.

Together with the impression presented from the first photo, that the demonstration is peaceful, this photo of "arrest for no reason" misled readers into believing, or at least suspecting, that Taiwan police arrest peaceful pro-Chiang demonstrators for no reason.

It is for obvious reasons that this AFP reporter, whose name is not shown, doesn't want his/her readers to know that the arrested criminal, Peng, is a registered campaign assitant of a pro-China legislative candidate Mei Feng (梅峰), who claims on his website to be a "China Legislative Candidate." (in Taiwan?)

AFP continues her news distorting trick onto the 3rd photo, which gets even dirtier. It shows that one guy is smashing the windshield of a truck, with legend:

"Angry pro-government demonstrators smash the windshield of a truck in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall"

Note what I highlight above. What AFP hid from the readers in this single photo are:

  1. The crime committed by the driver of this truck prior to this windshield smashing act (在眾人驚慌尖叫下,員警、媒體記者和民眾合力擋住小貨車,員警火速拔掉車鑰匙並將彭盛露拉下車。一名台建聯盟成員拿出棍棒猛砸車頭和擋風玻璃 [see here]);

  2. The truck was the crime tool of a violent act;

  3. The pro-government demonstrators were angry because of that criminal act committed by an anti-government demonstrator;

  4. The direct 'cause-and-response' relationship between the crime act in photo#2 and the behavior in photo#3.

(Screen shot of photo and legend #3)
Note that in photo#2, not only the attempted murder charge was hidden from the readers, but also the identity of the criminal, including name and which side he serves for, was not mentioned. But in photo#3, AFP didn't forget to remind readers that the angry windshield-smashing guy is a "pro-government" supporter.

It seems to me that not only the photos and legends are carefully selected, but the order of how those photos are presented is carefully arranged in such a way that readers will be led to have an impression that:

1. Pro-Chiang demonstrators are peaceful;
2. Taiwan police arrested peaceful demonstrators for no reason;
3. Pro-government demonstrators are violent.

Unfortunately none of these covers entirely what really happened there.

When a journalist is accused of being biased, we could think of that he or she is eitehr ignorant or having own agenda. In this case, the AFP reporter saw a confrontation between DPP government and anti-government pro-KMT supporters, but by using carefully selected words and skillfully arranged photos and legends in their report, they hid the negative part of pro-KMT side to make pro-KMT look good, and at the same time hid all the background and historical information to make DPP government and DPP supporters look bad. With AFP's professional effort, this entire event has been painted into a shape that's far away from the truth. This kind of truth distortion can't be explained away by simply being ignorant.

In their own website, AFP claims (highlight by me):

"Today, the agency continues to expand its operations worldwide,... All share the same goal: to guarantee top quality international service tailored to the specific needs of clients in each region."

AFP certainly leads the global media on the "service tailored" part.


Update: I am attaching some other sources to let you see how much AFP has left behind. Comparing them, you would wonder if the writer of AFP is either drunk in some lala land, or is paid to write a propaganda note.

1. BBC Chinese "大中至正"牌匾完成拆除
(with my translation)
The people supporting the removal of the plague shouted "Down the authoritarity" and celebrated with red wine. Those who are against it blamed Chen Shui-Bian and DPP government, ...
In that bloody incident yesterday, an assitant of a legislator candidate drove a truck, intended to ram those plague-removal supporting TIers (Taiwan Independent supporters). After he was blocked and was surrounded by a group of journalists, he drove his truck into journalists, causing serious injuries onto a journalist who was dragged underneath the truck.

The pro-unification legislator candidate was not nominated by his party so he joined the campaign of legislative election without nomination.
The indicted truck driver claimed that the whole thing was an accident, but according to the journalists at the scene, the driver pushed hard on gas paddle several times, indicating that the ramming was intentional.

2. A-gu's Characters down!

A reporter friend called me live from the scene about 10-15 minutes ago to say all the characters are finally down at the gate and on the memorial building itself.

I heard the crowd, which was cheering and very happy.

He said that as the construction workers were removing each nail on the final character at the gate, they would turn around and held it up to show the crowd, which cheered. As they finished and were coming down from their raised platform, they also waved at the crowd which again cheered them.

3. Thanks to Tim Maddog for providing the following links of video clips. Watch what really happened in the scene, and ask yourself: what kind of news agency would pretend that it didn't happen?

-- CNN news clip. From the content, this clip shows what happened right after the ramming started. Police were trying to drag the driver out of the truck, but the truck kept going. You can hear the screaming and crying of bystanders, and frantic "Someone underneath the truck!!" shouting. (Link to the original clip):

-- News clip based on ftv.com.tw (Link to the clip on YouTube)


4. A historical moment of the end of authoritarian regime. Video clip from Taipei Congressman Chuang Rui-Hsiung (莊瑞雄, Nickname Taiwan Bear)'s website. Click to see how Taiwanese cheered and celebrated the removal of Chiang's plague. You can see how far AFP misled the readers. (original link)

5. Tim Maddog sent me this: Taipei Times regrets citing information from AFP because AFP reported distorted news:

In yesterday's issue, an item in the "Quick Take" section said former president Lee Teng-hui urged voters not to support the Democratic Progressive Party in upcoming elections ("Lee Teng-hui turns on Chen," page 3). Lee only urged his audience to make good use of the party ticket vote in the legislative elections. The material was sourced from Agence France-Presse, and the Taipei Times regrets the error.