Tue, May 22, 2012 - Page 2 News List

Foreign journalists threatened in China

WORRYING SHIFT:Recent incidents targeting foreigners in China are highlighting a xenophobic streak among Chinese officials that, for some, has fascist undertones

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff reporter

The level of harassment and threats foreign journalists based in China are facing today is worse than ever, some are saying, following the expulsion of a reporter from Qatar-based TV network Al-Jazeera and comments by a top TV show host that exposed an alarming xenophobic streak within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In a message posted on the popular China-based microblog Sina Weibo last week, Yang Rui (楊銳), host of the popular show Dialogue, which is aired on state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), shared his views on how China should rid itself of “foreign trash,” a reference to a recent campaign launched by the Public Security Bureau that targets foreigners who work illegally in the country.

“Cut off the foreign snake heads. People who can’t find jobs in the US and Europe come to China to grab our money, engage in human trafficking and spread deceitful lies to encourage emigration,” he wrote in Chinese. “Foreign spies seek out Chinese girls to mask their espionage and pretend to be tourists, while compiling maps and GPS data for Japan, [South] Korea and the West.”

Yang then commented on the expulsion of Melissa Chan, Beijing bureau chief for the English-language service of Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera, who was forced to leave China after the state refused to renew her visa over its anger at some critical reports made by the news organization.

“We kicked out that foreign bitch and closed Al-Jazeera’s Beijing bureau. We should shut up those who demonize China and send them packing,” wrote Yang, a fluent English speaker who often invites foreign guests on his show.

While his remarks were derided by some Chinese netizens, foreign reporters who operate in China regarded the incident as a sign of deterioration in their working environments.

They said that unlike privately owned media, CCTV was an apparatus of the state and that the failure of its management to force Yang to apologize or to punish him for his comments signified Beijing condoned his behavior. Had a host on a state-owned program in the West made similar remarks against a female reporter, he or she would surely have been reprimanded, some said, adding that it made no sense to judge CCTV by different standards.

Following his derogatory remarks targeting Chan, Yang turned his sights on another foreigner — Charlie Custer, author of the popular ChinaGeeks blog — for accusing Yang of xenophobia.

“Custer seriously damaged my reputation and I retain the right to sue him. This affair is entirely the result of his malicious speculation and he is inciting racial hatred. I can see his eyes are filled with anti-Chinese hatred,” he wrote on Sina Weibo, in comments that have since been removed.

Foreign reporters based in China, who refused to be named for this article, were divided on Yang’s influence, referring to him as a “complex” character and a nationalist who cared deeply about China while being aware of the challenges it faces. However, most agreed that the situation in China was getting worse for foreign reporters and some said it was reminiscent of fascism in Europe, saying also that the situation had become the worst they had seen since they began reporting there.

All agreed that Yang should be reprimanded for his attack on Chan and that failure to do so would severely damage China’s soft power and only invite more of the “negative” reporting Beijing often complains about.

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