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Western reporters covering HK protesters need a reality check

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-16 07:13
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Global Times reporter Fu Guohao is tied by rioters at the Hong Kong International Airport on August 13. [Photo/Agencies]

The gruesome scene of Fu Guohao, a Global Times reporter, being searched, tied up, humiliated and beaten up by Hong Kong protesters, or more precisely a mob, on Tuesday was broadcast live by many Western news channels. Only that while broadcasting it the channels identified Fu as a Hong Kong police undercover, until Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, tweeted that Hu is a reporter for the paper.

So far, I have not heard any Western journalists or news outlets condemning the brutality against a fellow journalist. The Voice of America, a US government-funded organization, refuses to acknowledge the basic fact, saying in its report that VOA cannot verify Fu's identity as a reporter. But it did not raise such a question when it called Fu a police undercover.

That many Western journalists covering the Hong Kong protests already reached a "verdict" before even going to the scene is nothing new. To them, China and the Chinese government are always wrong while the opposite side, whoever it may be, is always right. Talk about inherent prejudice.

Reporters should be impartial and objective, which is not the case with many reporters working for Western media. When Bruno Macaes of advisory firm Flint Global tweeted Fu's gruesome video on Tuesday, he was derided by Matthew Karnitschnig, Politico's chief Europe correspondent, saying: "So whose side are you on?" Like Karnitschnig, many journalists have taken sides while covering the Hong Kong protests, making objective reporting impossible.

That is why unlawful acts like the storming of the Hong Kong Legislative Council building on July 1 when mobs shattered glass doors, spray-painted graffiti on the walls and ransacked the LegCo complex were portrayed by many Western media outlets as heroic acts. They did the same when mobs threw petrol bombs at Hong Kong police recently.

Despite broadcasting the scene of a mob beating up a policeman and pinning him to the ground at the Hong Kong airport on Tuesday, Sky News ran a misleading caption, saying "a police officer pulled a gun on protesters in violent confrontation at Hong Kong airport", contradicting what the video clip showed. Viewers, however, are not blind.

Western media's description of the law enforcement action by the Hong Kong police as "police brutality" was the most bizarre news reporting. Having covered the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and other US cities and the Yellow Vest protests in Paris, I was surprised to see the excessive restraint exercised by the Hong Kong police, which have been ranked high for their professionalism for a long time.

If it were the New York Police Department, real shots would have been fired and hundreds, if not thousands, of the protesters arrested. I was on Brooklyn Bridge on Oct 1, 2011, when more than 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters were handcuffed and taken away because they were marching in the car lane, instead of the pedestrian sidewalks.

I cannot imagine the NYPD, Washington DC police or the London police not using force to restrain protesters storming the JFK Airport, Reagan National Airport or Heathrow Airport.

I still remember an NYPD officer yelling at me and several other journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement that if we stepped off the sidewalk again, he would immediately arrest all of us despite wearing press badges.

It is true that the political bias in the US and some other countries has made it hard for many Western journalists to report about China objectively. But that is no excuse for distorting facts and failing to show solidarity with a fellow journalist beaten up by a mob.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.


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