Framing U.S. Cigarette Exports to Asia:
How U.S. Daily Newspapers Covered Cigarette Deal
Kwangmi Ko Kim, Ph. D
Department of Mass Communication
and Communication Studies
8000 York Rd.
Towson, MD 21252
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Phone: (410) 769-9169
Submitted to the Qualitative Studies Division, the Association
for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
New Orleans, August 1999
"Framing U.S. Cigarette Exports to Asia:
How U.S. Daily Newspapers Covered Cigarette Deal"
This study focuses on the U.S. media coverage of U.S. cigarette exports to
Taiwan and Korea, and examines whether there was congruence between U.S. foreign
policy objectives and the direction of the news coverage.
This study revealed that most U.S. daily newspapers followed a U.S. "official"
line in reporting the issue of exporting cigarettes to Asia. The issue of
exporting U.S. cigarettes to Asia was packaged into a trade issue, not a health
issue, by the U.S. press as well as by U.S. policy makers.
Framing U.S. Cigarette Exports to Asia:
How U.S. Daily Newspapers Covered Cigarette Deal
The various roles of the media in society have been a topic of numerous studies.
Media critics argue that the media serve the interest of a special group and
provide a limited worldview to the public whether hegemony or concentrated media
ownership structure influences media practices. Media professionals often
indicate that the media serve as a watchdog of the government and provide its
own independent perspectives to the public, and enhance its given democratic
When the media cover foreign policy the question of the role of the media and
their relationship with the government become more complex. Do the media find
themselves in a more consonant or even patriotic relationship with the
government as they cover U.S. foreign policy? In other words, is the news
coverage influenced by U.S. foreign policy or do the media have the resources
and the intent to steer their own independent course, even when that confronts
with the U.S. interests?
The answers to these questions do not yield a consistent pattern. While
researchers such as Larson (1988) revealed an "uneasy symbiosis" between the
press and government, Herman and Chomsky (1988), Barranco and Shyles (1988), and
Solomon (1992) suggest that a nationalistic link does exist between foreign
policy and its coverage by the press. Similarly they reveal that the directions
of foreign news coverage and foreign policy tend to be parallel. These studies
mostly have examined political or military events took place in foreign
countries such as election and war, and U.S. foreign policy toward such events.
This present study attempts to examine whether such a supporting relationship
between the government and the media exists in a different area of foreign
policy -- in the coverage of cigarette talks. During the 1980s the U.S. had
experienced a rapidly growing trade deficit with its major trading partners,
which led the U.S. to look for any potential markets to sell more U.S. products
and services. Such an effort to reduce a trade deficit drove the U.S. to the
vigorous trade talks and negotiations with its trading partners. Particularly
the U.S. government with major U.S. cigarette companies tried to open up closed
cigarette markets of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea in the mid 1980s and gained free
access to these markets by 1988.
This study examines how the U.S. newspapers covered U.S. cigarette exports to
Asia. It focuses on the coverage of U.S. cigarette talks with Taiwan and Korea,
and examines whether there was congruence between U.S. foreign policy objectives
and the direction of the news coverage.
How the U.S. media report on foreign events or foreign policy has been examined
in numerous studies. Gans (1979, p. 37) notes that the media do follow the State
Department's line, "if not slavishly" in foreign news coverage more than they
would follow the White House in covering domestic news. Herman and Chomsky
(1988) go further on this question of relationship between the U.S. foreign
policy and the media by introducing the notion of "dichotomized treatment,"
where different countries with similar events receive different media coverage
based on their relations with the U.S. Herman (1992) even argues that the mass
media collaborate with the government to "engineer consent by means of
propaganda outbursts that were built, in whole or in part, on lies." ( p. 15).
By selecting news events that best serve the U.S. government's propaganda
campaign needs and by providing intensive coverage for politically useful
issues, U.S. news media perform the role of "consent manufacturer." For example,
the media often practice self-censorship in "national security interest" not
only in times of national difficulties but whenever it became convenient. The
complicity between the U.S. government and the media has been processed through
"the reliance on the powerful and their accredited experts for information, and
the exclusion of contesting viewpoints by dissidents and unaccredited experts."
(Herman, p. 15).
Bennett (1990) also delivers similar perspectives on the role of the media
through media's function of "indexing." Media news professionals tend to
"index" the range of voices and viewpoints in both news and editorials according
to the range of views expressed in mainstream government debate about a given
topic. He contends that "other/ non-official" or contesting voices are only
included in news stories and editorials when those voices express opinions
already emerging in official circles. Otherwise, those contesting or conflicting
voices are easily marginalized in the mainstream news media. The role the press
plays in this indexing process would be closer to "keeper of the official
record" rather than to its traditional role as an independent "voice of the
people" (Bennett, p. 106).
Such indexing function of the media is also described with a "frame," an overall
context for viewing a news story (Goffman, 1974; Gitlin, 1979; Fiske and Taylor,
1991; Gamson, 1992; Solomon, 1992; Edelman, 1993). Entman (1993) explains how
the media frame an issue or a story:
Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some
aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating
text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal
interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item
described. (Italics in original) (Entman, p. 52)
As his analysis presents, framing needs to go through four steps: define
problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest solutions. This
framing process works by selecting and highlighting particular aspects of the
reality while obscuring or omitting other elements, which might lead the
audience to a different understanding of the reality. Kahneman and Tversky
(1984) showed the power of framing in their experiment and illustrated that the
frame has a common effect on large portions of the receiving audience, though it
is not likely to have a universal effect on all. In other words, this framing
acknowledges that the presence of frames in the text does not necessarily
guarantee their influence on the audience's comprehension and perception on the
However, the audience's understanding on the text is affected if they perceive
and process information about one interpretation and possess little or
incommensurable data about alternatives to compare and evaluate the original
interpretation. Especially, the power of framing is strong in the reports of
foreign news or foreign policy in which most audiences do not have direct
experience or knowledge about. "This is why exclusion of interpretations by
frames is as significant to outcomes as inclusion" (Entman, p. 54).
What are the most frequently used framing devices in telling the stories of the
U.S. cigarette exports to Asia? How do these stories define and evaluate the
resistance of Asian countries against the U.S. pressure and the pre-existing
government monopoly system in Asia? What aspects of the issue have mainstream
news media saliently covered while simultaneously omitting other aspects? This
study aims to answer these questions by examining how the U.S. media have framed
the stories related to cigarette exports to Asia and by analyzing what kinds of
voices and perspectives were indexed in these news stories.
Background on U.S. Cigarette Exports to Asia
The decreased domestic consumption of cigarettes with antismoking measures in a
domestic market made U.S. cigarette companies to turn into foreign markets for
their products. It is a typical turnaround for private companies to exploit and
expand into new markets once they have faced maturity in their current markets.
With high smoking rate, Asian markets such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea became
attractive to these U.S. cigarette companies. However, these three Asian markets
were closed to foreign companies and each government had a monopoly in
production and distribution of tobacco products.
In 1981, Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson formed the U.S.
Cigarette Export Association (USCEA) to compete more effectively in foreign
markets with a single, unified voice and became the sole members of the USCEA.
To open up each cigarette market in Asia, these U.S. cigarette companies
utilized the power of U.S. trade representatives, and the issue of opening these
cigarette markets to U.S. brands became a trade issue. The U.S. trade
representatives (USTR) initiated cigarette trade actions against Japan in 1985
and Taiwan in 1986. The USCEA petitioned the USTR for the initiation of Section
301 actions against Korea in 1988 (Kim, 1997).
Another circumstance that made it possible for U.S. cigarette companies to have
the aid of the U.S. government in this issue was U.S.' growing trade deficit.
Japan, Taiwan and Korea all enjoyed a huge trade surplus with the U.S. in the
1980s. In late 1985, the Reagan administration was under a lot of pressure from
Congress, due in part to the growing trade deficit, to demonstrate that it was
taking more aggressive actions throughout the world to market U.S. commodities
(USGD, 1990). The USTR and U.S. cigarette companies perceived the opening of
the closed Asian cigarette markets as one of the solutions they had.
By using bilateral economic and political power against these countries, the
U.S. government signed trade agreements with Japan and Taiwan in 1986, and with
Korea in 1988, allowing U.S. cigarette companies free access with a right to
advertise them. At the beginning of negotiations with the USTR, the Taiwanese
government held the position that U.S. cigarette companies should sell their
products without advertising. The continuous and firm insistence of the USTR
for the right to advertise U.S. cigarettes in Taiwan finally made the Taiwanese
government to add a right to advertise cigarettes to its trade agreement made in
1986. Korea was also forced to permit advertising and promotions of U.S.
cigarettes at all retail outlets where domestic and foreign brands were sold,
including signs and promotions at shops, 120 pages of advertisement in magazines
and cigarette company sponsorship of social, cultural, and sporting events. Due
to government monopoly Korea and Taiwan had never allowed cigarette advertising
and other marketing promotions while Japan allowed limited advertising before
the market opening.
The data for this analysis were drawn from news, editorial, and opinion
coverage on the cigarette exports to Asian countries. The Lexis-Nexis database
was used to identify relevant news stories from U.S. daily newspapers by using
key words such as "U.S. cigarettes," "Korea," "Taiwan," and "Asia." This study
examined the 10-year period from 1980 to 1990 since the U.S. trade talks with
Japan, Taiwan, and Korea had started in early mid-1980s and finished with
Korea's cigarette market opening in July 1, 1988. By extending two more years
after the negotiated trade agreement, this study was able to examine whether
there have been any changes made before and after such agreement in terms of the
tone of the U.S. media coverage. The Lexis-Nexis search yielded a total of 30
stories on this topic, and only 25 articles were analyzed due to duplicated
articles or irrelevant materials (e.g., news briefs, exports statistics, and the
coverage on Eastern European market). When this database provided only abstract
of news stories, an actual text of news stories was retrieved from an actual
publication for the analysis.
Each news story was analyzed by its news sources and direction. First, each
story was examined whether it simply delivered a fact or it voiced on the issue
along with a fact. Secondly, if an opinion was voiced, this study examined how
it was voiced and determined whether an overall news story was favorable to the
U.S., unfavorable, or neutral. This story also analyzed whether a news story
covered both side of arguments and positions on this issue (e.g., U.S. trade
teams and cigarette companies vs. Asian trade teams and health professionals).
If both sides were presented, it was analyzed that which side was dominantly
represented and how that side was framed in a story.
Since the coverage of U.S. cigarette exports to Asia touched several areas such
as a trade aspect, health aspect, government monopoly, and the resistance of
Asian countries, this study presented each area separately to see how it was
portrayed and represented.
Major News Sources
Media critics indicate that U.S. media heavily rely on government officials and
dominant power groups for their news stories. Such reliance on a small number of
population generated a concern over "fair" and "objective" media practices since
these limited but powerful news sources filter out the news fit to print.
This study also finds that the news stories on cigarette talks also utilized
the same circle of news sources. When news stories mainly reported the process
and development of trade talks, the U.S. press used U.S. trade representatives,
U.S. government officials, and trade officials of counterparts. Another major
news source was U.S. cigarette companies. They were represented in two forms of
identity. First, they were represented as a group: the U.S. Cigarette Exporters
Association. In fact this association was formed with only three U.S. major
cigarette companies (Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Brown and Williamson) before
trade talks started in the 1980s. U. S. news media rarely identified who
consisted of this association. By this way -- using the organization, in this
case, USCEA, rather than using specific individual names of three cigarette
companies -- the news stories gave more weight and validity to the claims and
complaints filed by this organization. Furthermore, it implied that cigarette
talks are to enhance U.S. national economic interest rather than the interests
of few private companies. The second representation was through public
relations directors or spokesperson of each cigarette company. Their voices were
used to defend the position of the U.S. cigarette industry against any
complaints or claims made by Asian governments and social groups. For example,
the New York Times (May 10, 1988) heavily relied on director of international
relations for Philip Morris, director of corporate affairs for Philip Morris
Asia, and director of public affairs for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco International.
The Portrayal of Cigarette Talks
News stories about cigarette talks seemed to be fact-oriented and
and appeared in early days of trade negotiations, starting August 25, 1986.
Typical news stories in this topic reported the status and process of cigarette
talks between the U.S. and its Asian trade partners along with trade-surplus or
deficit information. A story "Taipei, Seoul face Pressure" (Journal of Commerce,
October 15, 1986) mentioned in its fourth sentence that Taiwan's trade surplus
with the U.S. was increasing to $12 billion, up from $10 billion in 1985.
Another story "U.S. Dents Asian Armor" (January 6, 1987) identified the positive
progress the U.S. trade team made with Taiwan and Korea with its opening
sentence of "debt-ridden Uncle Sam has managed recently to win." The second
sentence of this story defined such U.S. victories "inconsequential" because its
trade concessions of $2 billion were nothing to U.S. trade deficit figures. The
tone and approach of this news story were clearly reinforced again in the middle
of the story: "Given the United States' estimated 1986 trade deficits of $14
billion with Taiwan and $7 billion with South Korea, the $2 billion in trade
concessions will not go far in righting the imbalances." By highlighting U.S.
trade deficit figures or trade surplus figures of Asian countries in the
coverage of cigarette talks, the U.S. press signaled a message that this
cigarette deal should be done as the U.S. intends to accomplish.
News stories on this topic also emphasized a rule of "fairness." This logic
summons that Taiwan and Korea should open their cigarette markets to the U.S.
since they are selling "billions of dollars worth of products in America while
keeping American products out of their markets." A story "US Dents Asian Armor"
directly quoted a California trade representative Marshall Thomas saying "our
industries dying and people have lost their jobs.... These countries have to
start playing fair for a change." Following this paragraph, this story concluded
with an economic growth rate of each country: "Indeed, while Taiwan's $65
billion economy is expected to grow 10 percent this year and South Korea's $100
billion economy is hovering at 8 percent growth, United States' is a sluggish
2.8 percent." (emphasis is mine). This last sentence implies that Taiwan and
Korea are unfair to ban the imports of U.S. cigarettes while enjoying the huge
What this story did not reveal, however, the size of the U.S. economy and the
that the economic growth rate becomes greatly slower or even steady for almost
fully industrialized countries like the U.S. The way in which this story
complied and structured various information is more interesting than its
content. This story started with U.S.' unbalanced trade relation, reported
anti-American sentiments in Korea and Taiwan (which will be discussed later),
and went back to "fair" trade issue and "sluggish" economic growth of the U.S.
By concluding this long story with an economic aspect, it effectively rebutted
and invalidated the concern of Taiwan and Korea over opening their cigarette
markets to U.S. brands. Such framed structure of the story yields a favorable
tone to the U.S.
Another "fair" game story came from the New York Times, "U.S. cigarette Makers
Gain in Asia." After reporting criticisms pervaded in Asia against the U.S. this
story directly quotes Matthew n. Winokur, director of corporate affairs for
Philip Morris Asia: "Asians are smoking in any case....If people are going to
smoke, why shouldn't they be able to choose American cigarettes?"
The Portrayal of Government Monopoly
Another noticeable framing devices used by U.S. news media were the way in
which each government monopoly was described. Taiwanese and Korean governments
had maintained their monopolistic management for the production and distribution
of tobacco products in each country. These government monopolies were
contrasted with the U.S. free-market system in dichotomy and were projected in
negative terms: "control" vs. "competition and more choices for consumers";
"poor quality" vs. "better quality and taste"; "rigid and inferior service to
retailers" vs. "flexible and better services to retailers." Typical examples of
such dichotomy are as follows:
As government organization with monopoly privileges the bureau [the Monopoly
Bureau in Taiwan] never needed to hone its marketing skills. It engages in
virtually no advertising, and often treated retailers more a supplicant than
customers. Instead of offering a delivery service, the Monopoly Bureau has
required stores to pick up merchandise at is warehouse and return empty beer
bottles. Payment terms are equally rigid ("More US Goods Moving Into Taiwan
American cigarettes are selling well here not so much because of advertising but
because they are of better quality and taste better. American cigarettes are
made of blended tobacco and have less tar than Taiwanese cigarettes, which are
not blended. (U.S. Cigarette Makers Gain in Asia).
Also these government monopoly systems were projected as a self-seeking
organization to keep U.S. cigarette products from competing with them, which was
the official line and argument of USCEA and US trade officials. "The Taiwan side
sought to protect the monopoly system by keeping the price of the imports much
higher than for local brands....The opening to the U.S. products may be only the
beginning of the bureau's problems" ("More US Goods Moving Into Taiwan
The Portrayal of Anti-American Sentiments and Local Resistance in Taiwan and
Under the U.S. pressure to open cigarette markets to U.S. brands, Taiwan and
Korea had resisted such opening by forming integrated forces with consumer
groups, health organizations and college students. These groups often called the
U.S. attempt "a new Opium War" from the early stage of the trade talks.
The resistance and anti-American sentiments among Taiwan and Korea were
reported when news stories became long and different perspectives of both sides
were represented. However, when the story became more straightforward on trade
talks, the U.S. media seldom covered this resistance movement.
When it was covered it was negatively labeled with "anti-U.S. student radicals
joined "a highly emotional and illogical" campaign. Korea students who voiced
their objections t the U.S. pressure were seen as a problem maker in a Korean
society rather than as an active citizen to protect the sovereignty of their
Furthermore the coverage of anti-American sentiments and resistance employed
two systematic patterns to undermine those concerns. First, these stories were
reported in conjunction with strong U.S. warning labels on cigarette packages.
"Still other leaflets charge Washington with "exporting cancer" to Taiwan,
conveniently forgetting about the explicit health warnings printed on U.S.
cigarette packages" ("US Dents Asian Armor"). Taiwanese cigarettes carry "a
warning much milder than the health-warning labels mandate in the United States"
("US Cigarette Makers Gain in Asia"). Second, these stories were juxtaposed with
trade surplus Taiwan and Korea had from the U.S. trade. "Many South Korean,....,
apparently forgotten that it is just 1 percent of the market that is opening up
to U.S. cigarettes."
The Los Angeles Times presented both sides of arguments on this issue in a
story "U.S. cigarettes: Secret Pleasure in Korea." While this story acknowledged
anti-American sentiments pervaded in Korea, it also signaled that such
resistance was not genuine since Koreans secretly enjoyed smoking American
brands while being afraid of public criticism. According to this story account,
U.S. cigarettes became a secret pleasure for Koreans, and Korean resistance
against the U.S. pressure became "bubbling nationalism."
In other words, even when anti-American sentiments and boycott movement were
reported as contesting voices, they were framed in a negative way to diminish
the importance and value of such resistance movement.
The Visibility of Health Concerns
Another area this study examines was whether a health concern over cigarette
exports was fairly expressed in the U.S. media. This question is particularly
important and interesting to examine since the 6th World Health Conference on
Smoking and Health was held in Tokyo, Japan in November 1987. This conference
was held in the time when Korea was still in negotiations with the U.S. in
cigarette talks, and Taiwan and Japan were experiencing immediate aftermath of
the trade agreement on cigarette market opening. Major health organizations such
as the World Health Organization, American Cancer Society, Japan Cancer Society
sponsored this conference.
Out of 25 news stories, two stories covered this conference, the Washington
Post on November 13, 1987 and Journal of Commerce on January 29, 1988. The
Washington Post timely covered this conference in a relatively long story (in
846 words) "Tobacco Firms' Sales Efforts in Asia Draw Fire" and Journal of
Commerce reported about two months later after the conference.
The Washington Post reflected critical voices of health professionals on this
cigarette exports. It delivered the anti-smoking activists' concerns over U.S.
cigarette exports to Asia and over their promotional tactics to target children
and women, which were traditionally untapped market in this region. It also
reported several specific examples on how the U.S. cigarette firms with the aid
of the U.S. government have interfered with local government efforts to
implement health measures. According to this story, when the Japanese health
ministry formed a committee to study possible measures to reduce smoking rate in
Japan, the U.S. embassy in Japan issued a letter to Japan that this committee
"poses the danger" against foreign cigarettes and "the embassy will monitor" the
process of the committee's development. The statement made by Michael Pertschuk,
former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, was quoted in the story for
such involvement of the U.S. embassy in Japan: "our State Department is an agent
for spreading disease.... They're an adjunct of the tobacco industry."
This report was the first story in terms of voicing negative responses to the
U.S. policy on cigarette exports within official circles. It also used Gregory
N. Connolly, anti-smoking activist and an advisor to the World Health
Organization as a news source for criticizing U.S. policy: "the industry plan is
to create demand among Oriental females... And death and disease will follow."
This story was different from other news stories in that it voiced negative
responses to the U.S. foreign policy on cigarette exports and heavily quoted
health professionals' perspective. Interestingly enough, however, this story did
not provide the name of this 4-day long conference at all, which was the World
Health Conference on Smoking and Health. It just vaguely referred to
The other story on this conference was from Journal of Commerce bylined by
Associate Press. The overall tone of this story was unfavorable to the U.S.
cigarette exports and delivered strong accusations against its policy. However,
its headline "Global Tobacco companies pursue Asian Sales" did not reflect the
content and tone of its story. If the reader did not read the story itself, it
is hard to grasp what this story is about from this headline. This story is also
published two months after the conference. Providing timely reporting on the
event is critical in news business and this story failed to do so.
Besides these two articles on health conference in Japan, the Los Angeles Times
(July 23, 1989) was the first U.S. daily newspaper to run an opinion article on
this U.S. policy. As implied in its headline "Exporting Death: Cigarette Firms
Attack Asia As American Smoke Less," this long opinion article (in 1227 words)
voiced strong criticisms against the U.S. policy on cigarette exports. Cigarette
exports were associated with exporting death and cancer, the U.S. push for all
market opening was identified with the practices of devil. Then U.S. Surgeon
General C. Everett Koop has been one of the outspoken critics against the U.S.
policy but his views were never heard before in any of the U.S. press during the
study period. This story was the first one to use him as its news source: "I
don't think that we as citizen can continue to tolerate exporting disease,
disability and death." It also revealed how North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms
initiated and molded an idea of cigarette exports to Asia into a major trade
issue in the U.S. by sending a "tough-worded letter" to then Japanese Prime
Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. It defined this letter a "thinly veiled threat that
fellow senators were losing patience." This was a completely new information
revealed to the reader, an unknown fact for several years.
Also the noticeable thing in this story is the recognition that 17 House
members signed a letter to Carla Hills, then U.S. Trade Representatives, to
encourage her not to pursue any retaliatory trade measures on Thailand's
advertising ban. In relation to the Thai case, this opinion article voiced
anti-smoking and critical voices of U.S. congressmen. "It is hypocritical of the
United States to consider a television advertising ban abroad an unfair trade
practice, but to consider a ban on television advertising at home a national
When the U.S. tried to open the closed Thai cigarette market with its right to
advertise after lifting barriers in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, Thailand resisted
such pressure by allying with U.S. anti-smoking activists. Thailand requested an
unprecedented public hearing on this issue to the USTR, which actually was held
in Washington. This hearing generated a debate on the role of the U.S.
government in this pursuit and drew media attention.
This opinion story concluded with a quote of Massachusetts Democrat Chester G.
Atkins, "we used to be the No. 1 exporter of good health; now we're the No. 1
exporter of death."
Following this particular opinion article, several news stories reported about
the Thai case and went back to report the aftermath of cigarette trade
agreements made in Japan, Taiwan and Korea with more critical voices. They were
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (August 20, 1989), the Courier-Journal (September 19,
1989) and Boston Globe (September 24, 1989), the San Diego Union-Tribune
(November 20, 1989). All these news organizations directed the focus of the
cigarette export issue into a health issue from a trade issue, mainly due to
Thailand's publicized hearing in Washington and its relatively successful
resistance with U.S. anti-smoking groups.
The Boston Globe published its editorial on the Thai issue, the first editorial
ever in the U.S. press on cigarette exports to Asia. With a title of "U.S.
Tobacco-traffickers" this editorial supported the position of the Thai
government to keep advertising ban on cigarettes and lamented previous U.S.
government involvement in trade talks with Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. It stated
Tobacco is an agricultural product, and, as the tobacco lobby says, U.S. farmers
deserve "fair treatment." Unfortunately, their economy is based on a lethal
narcotic that causes 50 times as many premature deaths each year in America as
cocaine. Farmers deserve a fair chance to grow something else....Thailand has a
right to adopt a public health policy that makes the sales job inconvenient for
the purveyor of dangerous substances.
In an opinion page, the San Diego Union-Tribune also delivered strong
objections against the U.S. policy on selling and promoting cigarettes to Asia.
It reported illegal marketing promotions used by U.S. cigarette companies in
Asia and questioned the tobacco industry's claim on the ineffectiveness of
advertising on creating new smokers: "if that's true, then why does the U.S.
government ban cigarette advertising on American television?" It further stated
its critical voices on this issue in its last sentence: "Asians, like Americans,
eventually will abandon smoking. When that happens, it will be a shame if the
U.S. government is remembered as the institution that helped promote the
All these critical voices from several U.S. daily press signaled that the U.S.
should have considered a health aspect of this issue, not just as a trade issue.
They might provoke more debate and opportunities for the public to discuss this
policy or for the Bush administration to modify its policy. It is hard to claim
any causal relationship between the coverage and U.S. policy change toward
Thailand. But the USTR changed after the Washington hearing, then USTR Carla
Hills suspended the 301 procedure and referred the Thai case to the World Trade
Organization in Geneva. In September 1990, the GATT ruled that the Thai
government should open its market to U.S. tobacco exports but it upheld
Thailand's right to ban cigarette advertising in order "to give priority to
human health over trade liberalization" (Growing up in Smoke," p. 16).
As we examined, the tone of the U.S. press became changed anti-official lines
when the Thai case emerged as a controversial issue in Washington. However, its
traditional role as an "independent voice" came late for Japan, Taiwan, and
Korea. U.S. daily newspapers were silent or low-toned their voices when the U.S.
rigorously pursued cigarette talks with Japan, Taiwan and Korea. After the U.S.
government and cigarette companies accomplished what they wanted to do in these
markets, the U.S. press began to raise its voices against already-implemented
policy. The U.S. press failed to provoke the opportunities for public debate on
U.S. cigarette exports policy an rather advocated its policy by becoming a
purveyor of U.S. official perspectives and cigarette industry's voices.
This study revealed that most U.S. daily newspapers followed a U.S. "official"
line in reporting the issue of exporting cigarettes to Asia, whether it came
from the U.S. trade representatives or from U.S. cigarette companies. The issue
of exporting U.S. cigarettes to Asia was packaged into a trade issue by the U.S.
press as well as by the U.S. policy makers. This "media packaging" was done
through several framing devices: it was framed into a trade issue, not a health
issue by highlighting economic data such as trade surplus figures and economic
growth rate; by suppressing or omitting health-oriented event or opinions; by
obscuring anti-American sentiments and resistance movement into "emotional,"
"bubbling," and "illogical" nationalism; and by associating the outcome of
cigarette market opening only with economic terms such as a free-market
competition and market share. Directly collaborating with the government and
private corporations, the U.S. press participated in "fostering a world of
doublespeak" (Herman, p. 5).
The U.S. government and media have been active in educating the U.S. public on
hazardous health problems involved in smoking cigarettes. They also have worked
to undermine promotional marketing efforts by U.S. cigarette companies to
protect its public from any misleading or deceptive advertising messages and
images. When the same product was about to cross the national boundaries, the
U.S. press did not question its state policy and actions. It did not question
the alliance of the U.S. government with U.S. cigarette companies for enhancing
their private corporate interests. As Herman points out, the press not only
allows "the agenda of news to be bent in accordance with state demands, also
accepts the presuppositions of the state without question" (p. 5). By
highlighting the voices of government officials and cigarette companies while
omitting contesting viewpoints by anti-smoking groups and health experts in the
U.S. (e.g., the voice of U.S. Surgeon General), the mainstream news media framed
this particular issue into an one-sided story.
There were several news stories that delivered critical and unfavorable voices
to the U.S. policy on cigarette talks. However, it was not until the late 1980s
when the Thai case emerged as a controversial issue in Washington. Once
contesting voices were expressed in official circles by House representatives,
these news media included those voices and began to address the negative
implications of previous U.S. policy on cigarette exports. This case shows
exactly how the media tend to index the range of voices.
When the U.S. government and U.S. cigarette companies were engaged in
unprecedented cigarette deals with Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, U.S. daily
newspapers were silent. The fact that a small number of news stories was
published on this issue during a 10-year period also reflects such silence on
this issue. This silence serves the interest of the ruling economic class not by
provoking any public debate on this issue, which might lead to the condemnation
of cigarette exports policy.
By failing to provide a balance between U.S. "official" perspectives and
"other" international perspectives in the news, the U.S. press distorts the
international picture and international relations. If this practice remains
unchanged, Americans would be under disadvantages with a self-serving,
shortsighted view of the world.
This case study can be expanded in the future by conducting comparative
analysis with Asian press coverage to see whether each press frames the stories
of U.S. cigarette exports in a way to reflect its own official line.
Furthermore, the comparative analysis can be done with a third-party press
coverage to build a clear understanding of the relationship between the state
and the media.
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