By Javier Triana
Beijing, Jul 30 (EFE).- From accusations of spreading fake news to death threats over the phone to correspondents – the coverage of the recent floods in central China has once again put the foreign media in the country under attack.
There have been reports of harassment, calls for non-cooperation with the foreign press, harassment on social media and even intimidation to delete material recorded of a flooded area in Zhengzhou, the capital of China’s central Henan province.
On July 21 – a day after images of the floods in Zhengzhou began to circulate on social media -, a cameraman of a European media entity, which prefers not to be named for security reasons, arrived at a flooded area in the city along with three other colleagues.
“We went directly to the flooded tunnel in Jingguang where a lot of vehicles were affected, to take pictures and to conduct interviews,” he narrated to EFE.
“And in half an hour we were already surrounded by people, between 20 and 50 people, including people we interviewed who had changed their minds.”
“Then it all started to get a little bit more aggressive. They asked us if we were from the BBC,” he recounted.
This came in the backdrop of the province’s Communist yough wing directing its 1.6 million followers on Weibo, or the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, to report on the whereabouts of BBC journalist Robin Brant, who had been covering the floods.
There was much anger in Chinese cyberspace about a news by Brent claiming that people had been left to die at Shakou metro station, where at least 14 people drowned after the authorities failed to close it in time during the floods.
“A dangerous scenario was created where the masses reacted more than the individual. They were calling us ‘spies’ and the translator (of Chinese nationality) a ‘traitor’,” recalled the reporter.
“To calm the situation, we decided to delete (from the camera’s memory) the interviews they asked us to.”
The cameraman described the situation as “unfortunate” and said they had reached a point where the physical safety of the group was at stake.
“For me (deleting) it was to avoid a worse evil, but of course, the situation is regrettable and should not be the case either here or anywhere in the world,” he stressed.
This was not an isolated case in Zhengzhou. At least some dozen media workers from the United States, Germany, France and Qatar experienced harassment, either in person, through social media networks, or through messages and phone calls.
Chinese translators, producers and assistants have also received threats – including death threats – and been accused of “betrayal” for working for the foreign press, authorized and regulated by the country’s authorities.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the attacks on professionals working for the foreign press.
“Rhetoric from organizations affiliated with China’s ruling Communist Party directly endangers the physical safety of foreign journalists in China and hinders free reporting,” the statement said.
“The FCCC is disappointed and dismayed at the growing hostility against foreign media in China, a sentiment underpinned by rising Chinese nationalism sometimes directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities,” it added.
“The censorship of foreign media in China has contributed to a one-sided view of our work in China. Together, this has created a deteriorating working environment for the foreign press and further prevents journalists from providing the comprehensive coverage of China we aim for,” the statement further said.
The perspective of the state owned China Daily newspaper was, however, very different.