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After the floods, China found a target for its pain: Foreign Media

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After the extreme flood in central China last week destroyed homes, swept the subway and killed at least 73, the ruling Communist Party found a suitable outlet for the suppressed emotions of the public: foreign news media.

A party organization in Henan Province released a gun call on social media to confront a BBC reporter covering the disaster there. A day later, angry residents surrounded, pushed and shouted at reporters from Deutsche Welle and The Los Angeles Times. Nationalist commentators and news organizations then used the videos and screenshots of the confrontation to carry out a large-scale online attack on journalists working for foreign media.

They describe Western media coverage of China as fake, biased, slanderous and vicious. They claimed that foreign reporting on the devastating floods focused on damage rather than rescue efforts by the government and the public. They were unhappy that these journalists dared to call for transparency and accountability.

China Foreign Correspondents Club said in a declaration that he was disillusioned and shocked by the growing hostility against foreign media in China, a sentiment backed by growing Chinese nationalism sometimes directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.

Vitrioli targeting the western news media is the inevitable result of the cultural struggle against foreign influence and the anti-intellectualism campaign that the Communist Party has waged under the leadership of Xi Jinping.

During his nine-year term, the party has hit key liberal-leaning thought leaders, including journalists, intellectuals, lawyers and businessmen. Still restrained in harsh social media conversations by censoring a lot and encouraging users to report on each other. He has told people that ideas such as democracy, media independence and human rights are driven by Western forces hostile to China.

Instead, party propaganda and nationalist sentiment dominate the day. And Western news organizations critical coverage of China, which usually does not change the way they cover their countries, stands out as dissonant noise in the chorus of 1.4 billion people singing, All Glory to the Communist Party.

It does not matter that almost all Western media websites are blocked in China and the public does not have easy access to their reporting. State-run news media and nationalist commentators have taken the point home, sometimes quoting former President Donald J. Trump, that journalists are the enemy of the people.

Foreign media are facing more limited access to the country and growing hostility among the Chinese public. Last year, Beijing expelled more than a dozen territory-based American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post over a diplomatic row with the United States. The world will have to prepare for even less ground coverage of the second largest economy and the main rival of the United States.

China has a history of officially sponsored war against foreigners. In the early 19th century, Boxer Warriors, with the support of Empress Dowager Cixi, arose to eliminate foreign influence. They killed Christian and Chinese missionaries converted to Christianity.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards of Mao Zedong set it on fire at the British Embassy in Beijing as protesters chanted, Kill! Vrisni! A Reuters reporter spent two years alone in a town house.

In recent years, Beijing has grown increasingly aggressive by attacking Western news media for its coverage of China. Last week, wolf-fighting diplomats at the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka called the Reuters news agency shameless for using a photo of a Chinese Olympic gold medal that diplomats describe as ugly. The photo, which also appeared in Chinese state news media, shows the athlete trying to lift weights.

Do not put policies and ideologies on sports and call yourself an impartial media organization, the embassy said on Twitter.

Even so, it was shocking last weekend when the Communist Youth League Henans asked its 1.6 million followers on the social media platform Weibo to report the whereabouts of BBC journalist Robin Brant, who has become a target of online harassment. Many comments below the post are threatening.

As a student, it’s quite reasonable to walk down the street with a key, right? goes one

As a construction worker, says another, it must be reasonable for me to carry a brick.

As a student surgeon, it should be reasonable for me to carry a scalpel, says a third.

The next day, residents of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, surrounded a German TV reporter on duty for Deutsche Welle and a reporter for The Los Angeles Times after mistaking the German reporter for Mr Brant. The crowd physicized with German reporter Mathias Boelinger.

Z. Boelinger wrote on Twitter that a group of men were constantly pushing him as they shouted that he was a bad boy and had to stop painting China. A woman who was filming him blocked the way. When he asked who she was, she replied, I am Chinese.

When one of the men said, it’s good if you report truthfully, having a positive view of China. Just do not attack us, Mr. Boelinger asked, can I interview you?

The man said yes. But when Mr. Boelinger raised the camera, he objected, do not interview me. I do not like you

Mr Boelinger told Mr Brant: I do not know what would have happened if he had really been. The media environment in China is now frightening.

The BBC released a declaration on Tuesday, calling on the Chinese government to take immediate action to stop attacks on journalists.

As of Sunday, China-based staff for the BBC, The Los Angeles Times and others have received death threats and intimidating messages and calls, according to the China Foreign Correspondents Club. The Al Jazeera team was followed and filmed while reporting outside a Zhengzhou subway station, while reporters for the Associated Press were detained and reported to police during filming in a public area. Journalists reporting in a submerged tunnel for the Agence France-Presse news agency were forced to delete footage from hostile residents and surrounded by several dozen men, according to the correspondent group.

When several passers-by saw reporters for The New York Times conducting interviews on the streets of Zhengzhou earlier this week, they shouted at respondents not to speak, effectively ending the conversations.

Of course, in this era, journalists will face abuse on social media, unfortunately, William Nee of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Washington-based non-governmental organization, wrote on Twitter. But it is dangerous when the State promotes these xenophobic worldviews to achieve its political goals, rather than creating a potential environment for reporting.

It is impossible to explain why so many ordinary Chinese seemed eager to attack foreign journalists covering the floods. It was a severe natural disaster and probably difficult to deal with by any city. But it serves the public interest to find out if any deaths could have been avoided.

Some people probably got their suggestions from the government. Last week, the Zhengzhou government quickly posted banners on the sides of the submerged tunnel saying gawking could damage the city’s image.

The online crowd is even more ruthless for Chinese people who dare to be critical. A journalism professor asked on Weibo why the official Henan TV station had not preceded its regularly scheduled program to report on unprecedented rainfall. One commenter said he should ask on behalf of his American master.

A special post by a Chinese journalist complaining about the lack of transparency of Zhengzhou governments attracted so many hateful comments that it deleted it. Internet critics soon migrated to her other flood-related posts, telling her to Go change your nationality quickly and Hurry to go to the United States.

The Communist Party has not always been so intolerant of criticism. Former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji said in 1998 that it was acceptable if only 51 percent of media reports would be positive. It should not have been 99 percent, he said.

Over the next 15 years, research reporting flourished in several semi-independent publications. One of the highlights was the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper, which Mr. Xi pursued in early 2013 after the newsroom revolted over censorship.

In just a few years, all the newspapers, including South Weekend, lost their edge, becoming not much different from the party media.

On Wednesday, the main article on the newspapers ‘website was a collection of quotes from Mr. Xis’ speech this month commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

The title in the most popular article, however, asked why, despite numerous early warnings of heavy rains, the Zhengzhou government had failed to close businesses and schools.

Sources

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2/ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/28/business/china-floods-foreign-media.html

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