Editorial: A war to end in Colombia, but not yet between the West and the East

By Stephanie LI Yingliang

Oct. 16, 2016



“Communism as the ultimate evil has always been the specter haunting property owners, as it threatens the very root of their class position and superior status… and the ongoing conflicts and the well-publicized abuses of Communist states have contributed to elevating opposition to Communism to a first principle of Western ideology and politics,” Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman wrote in their 1988’s joint publication “Manufacturing Consent”. Though the war of anti-Communism has seen its end after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the former two worlds with different ideologies still continue their wrestles in reshaping the rhetoric in media.

The referendum of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was voted down with just a narrow margin of 50.2% to 49.8%. And shortly after that, the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel peace prize for his work on making the peace deal. At first sight, the series of events only seemed quite dramatic because of the unexpected result and the Nobel Prize came only days after the failed deal. However, looking closely at some of the styles in reporting from America, China and Britain, we can see something more than the story itself.

Let’s look at how the media refer to FARC first. In all the 10 stories from western media in this analysis, they refer the group as “rebels” [1-10]. An educational piece on BBC gives details on its nature, saying “they were founded in 1964 as the armed wing of the Communist Party and follow a Marxist-Leninist ideology” [1]. Also, two of CNN reports refer it as “a Marxist rebel group” or “Marxist rebels” [9][10] . “Rebel” defines the group as outlaws, setting them the opposite to the government. It also indicates the use of violence.

However, from the same amount of articles I pulled out in Chinese media, only half of them have used “rebels” or “leftist”, and one of them came from AFP [11-20]. Two of them mention the ideological nature, including one CCTV (Chinese Central Television) report saying that “the FARC has insisted that even as it disarms, it’s not giving up on its dreams of taking power and turning Colombia into a Marxist-Leninist state” [18]. In a Communist state, it is clearly that its media would prefer to veer from the label of “rebel” to the people who share the same ideology, especially the state media.

In terms of content, BBC, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times give backstories of FARC fighters or educational stories introducing the FARC. All the media, western or Chinese, wrote about the Nobel Peace Prize, only the western ones are longer and sufficient in details, yet the Chinese ones are mostly smaller in size. Instead, the CCTV and Xinhua stories prefer to cast the spotlight on FARC, rather than President Santos by comparing their headlines. Take the example of a Xinhua news report whose title says “FARC summit in Colombian jungle sets stage for peace”, the underlining message is that they are trying to make FARC the hero of the peace deal [11]. And there are a few more things worth noticing: first, it does not mention the nature of FARC, even without explaining the name, which would only leave readers wondering what it actually is. Second, the story mainly focuses on positive efforts done by FARC leaders in ending the war but hardly any mentioning of Santos’s work, which is the greatest difference I noticed between Chinese reports comparing with the western ones.

Chinese media use more than just headlines to help re-invent the image of FARC. In the same Xinhua report, every details have their agenda: there is a story about how a man found several long-lost community members who joined the FARC, and “happily” told the reporter that “they seem well. They are happy to have joined the guerrilla, convinced that it was worth the sacrifice, even though some have not seen their families in 20 years”. Later in the news, it also tries to justify the actions of FARC by blaming the enemy. For example, there are quotes from a commander of a FARC squad, saying that “our fight sought the well-being of all Colombian people…without the (right-wing) paramilitaries who have always terrorized the Colombian people…The paramilitaries killed my parents and I was left alone, orphaned, abandoned… the FARC appeared in the region. We got to know the guerrillas, I decided to join them and find another way of life”. Similarly, many of the CCTV’s stories put their emphasis on how FARC leaders help achieving peace, with no mentioning of how many victims killed in the war or children being kidnapped to become FARC fighters.

In contrast to CCTV’s overwhelming pieces of inside stories of the FARC, BBC runs a relatively more thorough coverages, including the referendum, Santos’s Nobel Prize, and detail information of FARC. It reveals the reasons of FARC’s existence, which stems from a long history of inequality in land distribution, thus creating a huge wealth gap. It also put in the recruits in question: “Human rights groups have often accused the Farc of forcibly recruiting poor farmers and children. The Farc say that everyone who joined them did so voluntarily” [1].

The major focus of a CNN piece lies on the issue of child recruits, with a video of an interview with a woman held captive by FARC for six years [9]. The news continues with stories of minors being kidnapped or lured in the group, and they “do ‘the dirty work’”: “they’re installing landmines, they’re transporting explosives, they’re kidnapping, they’re involved in all of the activities that the adults are doing,” according to a study on the guerrillas four years ago. Nevertheless, the words “Marxist rebels” appear at the very beginning of the report, and the following emphasizing on the abuses of children and women fighters. Again, CNN fits America’s ideological enemy right in the hats of “the ultimate evil”.

Finally, the balancing of views. News from Chinese media show that they interviewed mostly FARC leaders and members, who gave positive comments on the group, and none of them mentioned any human right abuse or wrongdoing of FARC. British media, namely BBC and the Guardian, give quotes from civilians, political experts, and politicians including President Santos and his opponent, former president Uribe. The position they take seems more neutral and they report the facts without inciting hatred against the FARC. American media differ in their stance: we can see that while stories on The New York Times and Los Angeles Times try to balance the views by looking closely at the life of FARC fighters [6][7] or simply sticking to the facts [5], CNN chooses to weight more emphasis on child soldiers, human rights abuses and lucrative cocaine profits as all CNN reports in this analysis have mentioned about these accusations [8][9][10].

By and large, a spectrum of rhetoric starts to reveal from the above analysis, with Xinhua and CCTV at one pole, CNN at the opposite end, and BBC, Guardian, New York Times and Los Angeles Times scattering in between. With striking resemblance of the history of the Chinese Communist Party and FARC as they share the same beliefs in Marxism and formed an armed force to fight against land inequality, the Communist propaganda machine is running in full gear. Chinese media showed more sympathy and friendliness to FARC and even more forgiving to their crimes, yet only making their stories less trustworthy. As for CNN, a western superior status has once more firmly established by repeating the abuses of the FARC and therefore reinforced the fear and hatred of an ideological enemy among its audience.





[1] BBC: Who are the Farc?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36605769 (published: Sep.28, 2016)

[2] BBC: Colombia referendum: Voters reject Farc peace deal

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37537252 (published: Oct.3, 2016)

[3] The Guardian: Colombia and Farc scramble to rescue peace deal amid worries of return to war

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/03/colombia-farc-peace-deal-voter-referendum-reaction (published: Oct.4, 2016)

[4] The Guardian: Juan Manuel Santos wins Nobel peace prize despite rejection of Farc peace deal

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/07/juan-manuel-santos-wins-nobel-peace-prize-for-work-with-farc (published: Oct.7, 2016)

[5] The New York Times: Why Colombia’s Peace Deal with the FARC Failed

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/03/world/americas/colombia-farc-referendum.html?action=click&contentCollection=Americas&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article&_r=2 (published: Oct.3, 2016)

[6] The New York Times: In a Rebel Camp in Colombia, Marx and Free Love Reign

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/19/world/americas/colombia-farc-rebels.html (published: March. 18, 2016)

[7] Los Angeles Times: After five decades in the jungle, Colombian guerrillas get a PR makeover as they prepare for peace

http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-colombia-farc-peace-snap-story.html   (published: Sep.25, 2016)

[8] CNN: Colombians narrowly reject peace deal with the FARC

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/02/americas/colombia-farc-peace-deal-vote/ (published: Oct.5, 2016)

[9] CNN: Colombia’s FARC rebels release child soldiers in potential peace deal

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/10/americas/farc-colombia-release-child-soldiers/index.html (published: Sept.11, 2016)

[10]CNN: Colombia, FARC fight to rescue peace deal rejected by voters

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/03/americas/colombia-farc-peace-deal/ (published: Oct.4, 2016)

[11] Xinhua: Spotlight: FARC summit in Colombian jungle sets stage for peace

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-09/26/c_135715258.htm (published: Sep.26, 2016)

[12] CCTV America: FARC and Colombian government close to signing deal

http://english.cctv.com/2016/09/21/VIDEUnswQSxoRSCRKhjmYN8c160921.shtml (published: Sep.21, 2016)

[13] CCTV: Government, UN and FARC rebels discuss resettlement

http://english.cctv.com/2016/08/16/VIDEf0NDcSb4Bznhs8o7tPCe160816.shtml (published: Aug.21, 2016)

[14] CCTV: Government, FARC rebels sign historic peace accord

http://english.cctv.com/2016/08/16/VIDEf0NDcSb4Bznhs8o7tPCe160816.shtml (published: Sep.27, 2016)

[15] CCTV: FARC plans full participation in Colombian politics following peace deal

http://english.cctv.com/2016/09/23/VIDEAPNtZD8THAZmhjnrmL4Q160923.shtml (published: Sep.23, 2016)

[16] CCTV: Colombian people vote No to peace deal with FARC

http://english.cctv.com/2016/10/03/VIDEDPzGM0FcfvmuJQiUYc7O161003.shtml(published: Oct.3, 2016)

[17] CCTV America: Colombia sets referendum on historic FARC peace accord

http://www.cctv-america.com/2016/09/05/colombia-sets-referendum-on-historic-farc-peace-accord (published: Sep.5, 2016)

[18] CCTV America: FARC approves peace deal with Colombian government

http://www.cctv-america.com/2016/09/23/farc-approves-peace-deal-with-colombian-government (published: Sep.23, 2016)

[19] CCTV America: EU to remove Colombia’s FARC from terror list (from AFP)

http://www.cctv-america.com/2016/09/26/eu-to-remove-colombias-farc-from-terror-list  (published: Sep.26, 2016)

[20] China Daily: 2016 Nobel peace prize provides hope to Colombian people: UN chief

http://africa.chinadaily.com.cn/world/2016-10/08/content_26986998.htm (published: Oct.8, 2016)


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