On the heels of his headline-grabbing overture to buy The New York Times, Chinese recycling magnate Chen Guangbiao held a press conference in New York City Tuesday, where he offered donations for a mother and daughter allegedly burned while joining in a self-immolation incident on Tiananmen Square in 2001 whose participants the Chinese government has claimed were Falun Gong practitioners (news).
Unfortunately, it appears this was a trap from the beginning, and most media walked right into it.
The press conference featured the two women repeating Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda denigrating Falun Gong. Yet, questions from the attending media focused on Chen’s stated attempt to purchase The New York Times, with virtually no attention paid to the content of the press conference itself. Clearly, Chen’s overture to The New York Times was effective in filling the seats.
Over the following 24 hours, several major media outlets published articles about this press event. Many of them repeating Beijing’s rhetoric that Falun Gong practitioners were responsible for the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident from 2001. Some articles even carried Beijing’s core propaganda lie: that Falun Gong is a dangerous or fringe group, implying a rationale for the 14 years of suppression and abuse the group has faced in China.
In fact, Falun Gong is a peaceful meditation and exercise practice from the Buddhist School of teachings, and steeped in traditional Chinese culture (overview)—all facts that the Chinese regime itself acknowledged and promoted until 1999 when a few top leaders embarked on a campaign to defame and destroy Falun Gong (news).
The manner in which this press event was conducted, and how it was subsequently covered, raises serious questions for journalists and editors in the West. Mainly: Is it sufficient to report, without significant investigation, statements made during such events, especially in cases where the individuals involved demonstrate a clear intention to use the Western press to publicize falsehoods perpetuated by a foreign, communist regime—falsehoods that are enabling the killing of innocent people?
The alleged self-immolation incident at the center of the press conference is not merely something in which Falun Gong “denies” involvement as many media reports stated. It has been thoroughly debunked, with evidence demonstrating significant portions of the official story are completely falsified. In fact, there is far more evidence indicating the incident was staged by Chinese authorities than there is indicating genuine Falun Gong practitioners were involved (report / video).
What makes this event tragic is that the propaganda formulated by Chinese authorities surrounding the self-immolation event of 2001 was so potent. Shortly after the barrage of TV programs and newspaper articles in China began falsely accusing Falun Gong practitioners of burning themselves in 2001, the systematic use of violence and extrajudicial imprisonment against Falun Gong practitioners in China escalated, with a surge in deaths due to torture and abuse in custody across the country. A Washington Post article published in 2001 expands upon the systematic use of violence to “stamp out” Falun Gong. (report)
If Chen were truly concerned with helping victims in China, why does he not assist Tibetan self-immolation victims who have set themselves on fire to protest abuse and corruption in Tibet? Why does he not pay for the medical expenses for Falun Gong practitioners who have been left disabled from horrific torture while in police custody?
Perhaps most importantly, why were these questions not asked by journalists, and investigated more thoroughly in the resulting articles? At the press event itself, the only questions asked by most media concerned Chen’s overture to The New York Times (even when most informed China watchers widely regard the overture as a publicity stunt). Why?
To be clear: there is still great journalism about China, and such journalism is both a noble endeavor and an invaluable service to the public. The coverage of Chen’s press event, however, is not it.
We understand the stakes are stacked against media organizations … budgets are shrinking, staff is limited, and the subject matter is becoming ever more complex, especially when dealing with agents of a communist regime—a regime whose rise to power and maintenance of power has hinged on the control of media. Yet, we cannot allow the Chinese Communist Party to play Western media like this. It appeases, if not assists, tyranny.
Erping Zhang is a spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Information Center, a New York-based nonprofit organization providing news and analysis on Falun Gong and the human rights crisis in China. See www.faluninfo.net.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.