Posted by Curt on 9 July, 2020 at 12:07 pm. 11 comments already!


t was obvious in March, back when members of the free press first began to praise China for supposedly defeating the coronavirus pandemic, that many journalists and commentators were parroting literal Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

But now, with Foreign Policy’s publication of a detailed, first-hand account describing China’s sinister, far-reaching efforts to hide the truth of its role in the spread of this pandemic, it is clearer than ever just how poorly our vaunted Fourth Estate failed us.

“We were all familiar with China’s growing censorship and had avoided using words and phrases that the Chinese government didn’t like,” writes freelance journalist Tracy Wen Liu, “but we fell victim to an expanding system anyway. … A wave of new censorship has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, most of it focused on covering up the stories around COVID-19 itself.”

She adds, “After the lockdown on Jan. 23, the situation in Wuhan was chaotic and horrific. I was told by Li, a doctor at Wuhan No. 4 Hospital, that ‘there’s insufficient manpower, limited treatment, and scarce [personal protective equipment].’”

Liu writes that she and like-minded journalists, including one she identifies simply as “Qian,” banded together to collect as much relevant information as possible to assist thousands of struggling patients with getting the healthcare they needed. However, Liu adds, “Qian” received a phone call from the Wuhan Propaganda Department on January 31, a little more than a week after the lockdown was imposed, and was ordered to stop reporting on the realities of the pandemic — or else.

“Qian” and many fellow journalists disregarded the reported threats. This is where Chinese authorities allegedly escalated the matter. Liu writes:

There were many journalists thinking like Qian. Through brave reporting, independent media outlets like Caixin published articles highlighting whistleblowers and government malfeasance. They talked about the Chinese Red Cross’s inefficiency in handling donations of protective equipment, a serious shortage of test kits, and how doctors had to charge toward the front line of the pandemic without proper protection. … The clampdowns came fast. According to Wong, an editor for the Paper (one of China’s leading digital media outlets), on Feb. 2, media outlets were told to not publish negative coronavirus-related articles. A good number of influential articles were deleted. Every night, around 2 a.m., thousands of posts from the “COVID-19 patients pleading for help” Weibo group disappeared. The government sent dozens of journalists to Wuhan to shape the narrative around the virus.

But there was still an eagerness to publish the truth. In March, Renwu magazine published an interview with Ai Fen, a doctor who heads the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital. She told the magazine that the outbreak began unfolding in December and doctors who tried to share information about the virus were told to stop. The story was deleted within hours of being published, yet Chinese internet users rapidly came up with various ways to preserve and share the article in a show of defiance against the censors. Some wrote the story backward, some used emoji instead of words, and some translated the story into other languages. While the various versions of the story were also deleted, this was a brief demonstration of the feeling of an empowered public.

Since around February, she adds, it has become “more and more difficult to interview medical workers, patients, and their families.”

“The government wants to portray itself as a responsible regime that has successfully contained the virus and is leading the world,” Liu writes. “More and more people are getting into trouble, whether ordinary members of the public or journalists.”

She continues:

Medical staff were particularly targeted as part of the post-virus crackdown. I obtained an official document issued by Fangshan No.1 Hospital in Shiyan (a city less than 300 miles away from Wuhan, in the same province), dated February 14, that warns hospital employees that sharing information about the coronavirus situation in their hospital could result in firing, loss of their status as civil servants, or expulsion from the Chinese Communist Party.

Liu, who provides documentation to back her assertion that coronavirus-related news articles were deleted by government officials and recovered later by vigilant readers, reports that medical workers “from various hospitals” have confirmed that these coronavirus-specific threats are common.

Keep in mind that at around the time that she says the Chinese Communist Party was reportedly cracking down on whistleblowers and medical workers, all while spearheading a propaganda campaign to position itself on the world stage as the most credible and competent superpower, members of the free press were practically tripping over themselves to praise China’s allegedly innovative and victorious response to the deadly contagion.

“How uncomfortable is it that perhaps China’s authoritarian ways did prevent this?” NBC News’s Chuck Todd asked in early March.

The Guardian columnist Bhaskar Sunkara said elsewhere in blanket praise for China, “thank God this pandemic started in a country with a strong state that took serious public health measures. Imagine if China was run by the GOP instead of the CCP.”

“China has reacted to the outbreak of coronavirus in Italy by sending aid,” mused the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum. “The U.S. has reacted by suspending flights. Who is the superpower?”

In terms of actual news reporting, things were not much better for Western journalism.

Read more

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x