“Distorting or concealing the fact is unethical and unprofessional. “
How the media covers or misinforms international issues is an important theme in media psychology. If you rely on the news media as the only source of information, you may have heard that “China invaded Tibet in 1950.” This belief, even though deeply entrenched in some people mind, is false, according to both American and European world atlas (pre-1949). I have studied historical world maps published before 1949 at the libraries of U. of Washington, Dartmouth College, and U. of Michigan. The Cartographers in late 19th and early 20th centuries clearly documented Tibet as a part of China. They apparently did not anticipate the Cold War ideology that later has led to the misinformation about the historical and geographic fact.
Below are seven maps from historical world atlas at the universities (chronically arranged)
1. Mitchell’s New General Atlas. (1871). Philadelphia: S. Augustus Mitchell.
2. ANDREES ALLGEMEINER HANDATLAS (GERMANY, 1914). VERLAG VON VELHAGEN & KLASING.
3. Atlas General Vidal-Lablache. (1922). Paris: Librairie Armand Colin.
4. The New World Atlas. (1925). New York: P. F. Collier and Son Company.
5. The Modern Atlas of the World. (1930). New York: C. S. HAMMOND & COMPANY, Inc.
6. NEW INTERNATIONAL ATLAS OF THE WORLD. (1932). CHICAGO: THE GEOGRAPHICAL PUBLISHING CO.
7. Encyclopedia Britannica World Atlas. (1942). Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.
(Please note the map was published during the WWII and the Northeast of China was till occupied by Japan).
Then the question is: Why did the news media disregard the historical fact and circulate the false information?
There are two possibilities, either they just cycled what was politically popular and never bothered to check its veracity, or some people may be aware of the truth but were afraid to share it with the audience. Either way, distorting or concealing the fact is unethical and unprofessional.
According to SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) Code of Ethics, conscientious journalists strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Journalists should test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible. Journalists should distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context. Journalists should show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other and admit mistakes and correct them promptly.