From the Spring 2008 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 8.
Government officials in Beijing have encouraged protests of Western media organizations after what authorities argue has been unduly negative coverage of the mainland response to unrest in Tibet.
Chinese government-run newspapers filed stories in March and April about efforts on behalf of foreign media to give the country a bad name ahead of the Summer Games. These stories pointed to coverage of Pro-Tibetan protests, which disrupted the Olympic torch relay in major metropolitan cities, including London, Paris and San Francisco.
Meanwhile, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty sparked a wave of anti-Western media furor when he referred to leaders in Beijing as “goons and thugs,” and criticized the quality of Chinese exports.
Chinese officials demanded an apology, but the network defended the comments as Cafferty simply stating an opinion.
Fourteen lawyers filed suit in Beijing, alleging that Cafferty’s remarks violated the dignity of Chinese citizens.
Shortly thereafter, a Chinese primary school teacher and a beautician filed a separate suit against CNN and Cafferty in U.S. District Court in New York, seeking $1.3 billion in compensation — $1 per person in China.
Asked if China supported the action against CNN, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu characterized it as “spontaneous activity by Chinese civilians.” “We will wait and see CNN’s response,” Jiang told a news conference.
“We hope CNN will take this seriously, because what CNN said and did has not only hurt China’s feelings, but also CNN’s own image.”
Following the lawsuits, Chinese-run newspapers have continued to file stories about large crowds gathering to protest the news channel and other media outlets. It is unclear how this unrest will affect Western reporters who aim to speak with Chinese citizens while covering the games. — JK