CNN Report: Made in China

Monday, August 6, 2007 1:30

With all the media attention on the recent recalls and food safety, it should come as no surprise that something would end up on Youtube. I am just surprised that CNN’s half hour program “Made in China” made it on.

John Vause and his colleagues in the U.S. and E.U. developed a program looking at the recent spat of products safety issues to enlighten viewers as to the scale of the problems, the underlying issues, how the “made in China” brand has been affected, and what consumers need to know when buying goods made in China.

Part 1 (11:35min)
The first few minutes really sets a tone for what the next 23 minutes has in store. China is growing, and growing fast. It is under a lot of pressures, things are going wrong, and it is now the world is questioning are “are those products safe”???

[youtube width=”425″ height=”335″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkiqPV3WhYQ[/youtube]

A few frames into the clip and it is obvious that CNN is not looking to make friends with Beijing, and it certainly is not looking to present a balanced view of the facts. John uses the backdrop of Wangfujing during the entire segment to present various angles on the issue that are completely unrelated (trade deficit and olympics to name two) and does nothing to present the role of businesses in the recent scandals. It is simply a blasting of China, its agencies, and its corrupt officials…

Some of the best quotes were:
1) “Beijing is now more than ever desperate to convince the world that the goods leaving it ports, especially it food, are safe”.
2) Can you imagine the embarrassment if the silk worms, the chicken hearts, or the kidneys were off and someone ended up in the hospital

The end of the segment is the worst as Richard Roth walked through a toy store and “interviewed” those looking through the shop. More leading than Michael Moore (“that is made in China.. does that worry you at all?”). Roth is not so much interviewing people as he is speaking for them and in one case on would be buyer actually says “I am upset that is was probably made in a sort of sweatshop area”, Roth follows up with “but you are still going to wear it to the bachelorette party?”and the buyer says “yeah because the other ones are much more expensive”

The ONLY balance I was able to find was in a street interview of a guy who actually happened to be involved in China sourcing (supervised they let him on camera) where he said “as long as you have a very careful monitoring system in place, then its fine).

Part 2: 14:38 minutes

following a poor presentation of the facts, CNN then looks to show how the Chinese consumers themselves have been affected through the eyes of one story, as they are often the ones most at risk. As he puts it “and sometimes, the best way to understand what is at stake here is through one single story. Because the number of often so staggering that they hide the human face”.

[youtube width=”425″ height=”335″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdIIlCfI3K8[/youtube]

For the next few minutes, the story shifted to Haerbin where CNN interviewed the parents of a 6year old girl who died after taking antibiotics that had not been properly sterilized. Vause, then reports the firm was identified, exposed, has (poorly) compensated the family, yet this firm is still up and running.. and exporting to the U.S..

A second story, based in Panama, follows the death of a 91 year old man after taking cough syrup manufactured by Panama’s social security administration. The Chinese supplier instead of supplying Glycerin, had instead supplier Dietilen Glicol.

The last segment, Vause is now in Tianjin, looks at the role importing governments have, and the size of the problem they face. There are different standard (the Chinese use chicken manure to feed shrimp), the FDA is only able to inspect under 1% of goods from China, and as a result Chinese suppliers are able to get away with anything. 625 inspectors for 10,000,000 food shipment.

Where one can really see how politics has invaded the issue is when Jill Doughtery says “FDA laws are out of date. Not designed to deal with modern challenges like importation and bio-terrorism. Food safety the say is now a matter of national security” …. and then CNN follows E.U. inspectors and regulators to show how difficult the task is..

Conclusions:

to be fair, CNN put forth the time and investment at a scale no one else is, but that does not excuse them for presenting such a slanted piece. After watching this piece several times, I am left with the following take aways:

1) The recent scandals are the fault of the Chinese suppliers
2) Chinese and U.S. agencies are incapable of monitoring food effectively
3) consumers need to be aware when buying China’s cheap goods as the need to drive costs down means cutting corners

When the goal should have been to investigate what the core issues surrounding quality failures are, who should be held to account, and how consumers can ensure they are not buying bad products, this lineup of star reporters did little more than create a report that would bring in the rankings by playing off the fears of consumers.

Consumers have every right to be a bit wary, and perhaps they are justified in questioning where the goods they are purchasing are coming from, but this story does nothing to educate or protect those consumers. Instead, political keywords like trade deficit and bio-terrorism were mixed with tragic stories in China and Panama, and iced off with John Vause’s pointing at street stalls in Beijing’s Wangfujing.

CNN missed a huge opportunity to present a balanced view on this situation, and it really is a shame that they did so.In the end, and besides the fact that the reporters are constantly adding elements of fear into the story, what I find most negligent about this report is that no one (except the guy on the street) mentioned the role that private business has in this. There was no acknowledgment that the importer of tires suspected 2 years ago that the tires were bad, there is no attempt to frame the actual problems in a responsible manner (the tires did meat highway safety standards), and there is absolutely zero attempt to responsibly report the statistics. Sure 80% of all toys in the U.S. are imported from China, but CNN really needs to distinguish between foreign products made in China and Chinese branded products made in China.

As a final note, Vause has posted some of his personal notes from this story. Given his previously experiences in Iraq, I was shocked that felt so personally afraid of the food quality in China that he lost 10 pounds. If a reporter that once was once dodging bullets and IEDs was afraid of the food in Beijing, I the viewer should also be afraid right?

Just another sign of how he was trying to slant the issue, and unfortunately, as a CNN reporter I have no doubt that his report has done just that.

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