|NMU||CHINA||Newsgathering||Feb 27, 2001|
Chinese officials deny investigation of American journalists
- Reports from the government-controlled media suggested CNN reporters could face murder charges for failing to stop Falun Gong demonstration.
The Chinese government denied newspaper reports about a plan to investigate foreign journalists for their alleged advance knowledge of a protest in Beijing where members of a banned spiritual group set themselves on fire, The Washington Post reported on Feb. 9.
Two weeks after the Jan 23 demonstration, at which one woman died, U.S. newspapers with bureaus in Beijing picked up a story from the Chinese government-controlled newspapers that foreign journalists, including two from CNN, could face murder charges of “aiding and abetting a suicide.” Chinese authorities believed the television reporters knew that five members of Falun Gong planned to self-immolate during the protest, but failed to stop the participants, according to the reports.
Soon after stories about the government probe surfaced, a spokesman for the Beijing Public Security Bureau rejected the reports, but could not explain how the newspapers received the false information.
Contrary to accounts that at least six foreign reporters faced an investigation, a CNN producer and cameraman were the only journalists detained and questioned by the police. Authorities confiscated CNN’s videotape and China Central Television later credited its protest footage to CNN.
CNN has denied that its reporters knew of the demonstration ahead of time, and said the reporters monitored Tiananmen Square because Falun Gong members frequently stage protests in the area. CNN also claimed Chinese television could not have used CNN’s footage, since police arrested the cameraman immediately after the incident began.
The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, the other two agencies named in the Chinese news reports, denied that their journalists were at the scene. Representatives for all three agencies said they knew nothing about a government investigation.
Falun Gong practioners in Texas told The Houston Chronicle they believed the protest was orchestrated by the Chinese government to discredit the group, which it banned in 1999, calling it an “evil cult.” Members of Falun Gong claim to promote spiritual growth through a combination of Eastern philosophies. The four survivors of the self-immolation, including a 12-year-old girl, were hospitalized in critical condition.
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press