'FAKE NEWS': China slams the BBC amid flood coverage feud

Beijing has accused the BBC of a prolonged campaign of "fake news" as its running feud with the British public broadcaster reached new heights on Thursday.

The particularly scathing attack delivered by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian came after China faced mounting criticism over the treatment of foreign journalists in the country, which was brought to a head during the devastating Henan floods which claimed the lives of at least 73 people.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China accused Beijing of openly endorsing intimidation and harassment of foreign journalists after several alarming incidents including one involving BBC Shanghai correspondent Robin Brant who became a victim of a hate campaign on social media site Weibo.

Angered by a report where Brant raised questions over potential failures from authorities after 14 people died in a flooded subway, the hashtag the "BBC spreads rumours" began to circulate on Weibo and was later promoted by Chinese state media.

The Henan Chinese Communist Party Youth League later called on its more than one million followers to seek out Brant and call police if found. Such a call led to angry residents mistakingly restraining journalist Mathias Boelinger in the street.

Reporter Mathias Boelinger being apprehended by citizens in Zhengzhou. Source: Twitter
Reporter Mathias Boelinger being apprehended by citizens in Zhengzhou. Source: Twitter

'Bad-mouthing Broadcasting Corporation'

The BBC condemned the behaviour and called for "immediate action" from the Chinese government to "stop these attacks which continue to endanger foreign journalists".

Yet in the foreign ministry's daily press conference, Mr Zhao suggested such scrutiny and treatment of the BBC was warranted.

"Do you know that the Chinese netizens refer to BBC as "Bad-mouthing Broadcasting Corporation"?" he said.

"Having long been clinging to its ideological bias against China, BBC has produced fake news time and again, spread false information on issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Covid-19, attacked and vilified China in serious deviation from the professional ethics of journalism.

"Everything happens for a reason."

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. Source: FMPRC
China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian hit out at the BBC on Thursday. Source: FMPRC

The Communist Party of China has reportedly instructed Chinese media to focus on the relief efforts of the army in flood-hit areas, and to avoid coverage of the deaths and destruction caused in an attempt to avoid scrutiny of possible failings in the lead-up to the floods.

Western media coverage has threatened to undermine such a position, with dismissing calls for press freedom as a cover to "fabricate fake news".

"Robin Brant, BBC journalist stationed in Shanghai, continued to put ideology above facts in his report about the torrential rain in Henan, turning a blind eye to the fact that the Chinese government has been sparing no efforts in conducting rescue work, and local residents have been volunteering help," Mr Zhao continued.

"Some Western media should ask themselves as to why their reports have caused public outrage in China.

"They make no mention of the enormous assistance and convenience China has provided to foreign journalists in their reporting."

Unsurprisingly, the attack from Mr Zhao was immediately picked up by nationalistic tabloid and Beijing mouthpiece the Global Times.

Its outspoken editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said such resentment of foreign media was "completely justifiable". However he warned physical harassment of reporters would only fuel biased reporting.

Earlier in the year the Global Times lashed out at the BBC over a documentary it released about original Covid epicentre Wuhan and its return to normality.

Addressing widespread anger online, it accused the BBC and reporter John Sudworth of using a grey filter on footage to "deliberately create a depressing and dark atmosphere".

Sudworth, regularly criticised by the foreign ministry, fled China for Taiwan earlier this year over fears for his safety.

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