The Epoch Times is an online and print newspaper considered critical of the Chinese government. It is based in New York with reporters around the world and its website says that it is a privately held media company.
The newspaper was concerned with three major issues regarding the reporting of the factory explosion in Nanjing City:
- the differing victim numbers reported by various media outlets,
- that it printed an inaccurate photo with its report on the explosion, and
- that the government is at fault for attempting to discredit The Epoch Times and for controlling media coverage
The Epoch Times’ Li Ming wrote Aug 13 that while Chinese authorities have said only 13 people died at the Nanjing City explosion, in fact, “initial media reports and several eyewitnesses placed the death toll … between 79 and hundreds.” Mainstream news outlets the Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News, and the BBC News reported between five and 13 deaths as a result of the explosion in Nanjing City, reportedly caused by a broken gas pipeline.
The Epoch Times reported on the differing accounts July 28 along with a photograph of “dozens of badly burned bodies.”
But, that photo wasn’t from the Nanjing explosion. Instead, it was a cropped picture of an African disaster, evidenced by the “group of blacks looking at burned bodies,” Li wrote.
Li reported that The Epoch Times’ deputy editor-in-chief, Pan Hongyi, said the news organization got the photo from a longstanding “trusted source.”
“The photo was sent to a netizen by the [Chinese regime] agent, who claimed it was from a worker at the explosion site. That netizen has been providing information to The Epoch Times for a few years and has been a trusted source. The netizen believed it came from the scene in Nanjing and passed it to The Epoch Times reporter, saying it was a photo from the explosion site.”
Pan was quoted as saying that The Times removed the pictures from its site when it found out it was inaccurate and also let other news outlets know of the photo’s inaccuracy.
The Epoch Times reported that Kai Feng Web (which it described as “a website affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party”) critiqued The Epoch Times for the image Aug 3. Several other news outlets re-reported the Kai Feng Web story. However, StinkyJournalism was unable to verify this assertion or find these reports.
But, this isn’t the first time reporting of a major event has been suppressed by the Chinese government. As a noteworthy reference, The Epoch Times cited the reporting surrounding the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. As The Epoch Times tells the story, a Chinese Communist Party agent let media outlets know that “Li Peng, the then-premier, had been shot.” Several media outlets reported the news. But, Li later made a public appearance, causing the public to doubt reports of the massacre.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications explains that media coverage was limited by the government as there was an “official news blackout” and reporters were being “threatened and interrogated.”
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Because the Internet prevents the Chinese government from controlling the media entirely, the government’s strategy has been to use agents to “generate phony news and pictures online.” The Epoch News wrote.
In the past ten years, dozens of Epoch Times reporters have been arrested. After the Epoch Times launched in 2000, 30 staff members on China’s mainland were arrested, the newspaper notes. More recent arrests include journalist Li Hong among others.
In 2005, Reporters without Borders publicly supported The Epoch Times after its printer refused to continue printing the newspaper. The nonprofit Reporters without Borders is an international journalism advocacy organization.
In 2006, BBC reported that the International Federation of Journalists and its Hong Kong affiliate publicly called “for the international community to speak out against the ‘dirty war’ campaign being waged against the Epoch Times.”
This year, Reporters without Borders named Hu Jintao, the president of China and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, on its annual list of predators because of his free press restrictions.
The independent, non-partisan think-tank Council on Foreign Relations has written about China’s speech freedoms and media censorship issues. For an extensive look at the CFR’s analysis, go here. CFR wrote that the communist party’s central propaganda department creates guidelines for what can and can’t be covered in the media and how. If something violates one of those guidelines, the story can be killed.
Falun Gong made headlines – as did The Epoch Times – in 2006 when a protester for the group used an Epoch Times press pass to get access to the White House when it was visited by Chinese president Hu Jintao, New American Media reported. The person screamed at the U.S. president calling out “President Bush, stop Hu Jintao’s persecution of Falun Gong! Stop the killings!”
New American Media “produces, aggregates and disseminates multimedia content and services for and from the youth and ethnic media sectors.” It wrote that The Epoch Times “denies any direct ties to Falun Gong.” Falun Gong is a spiritual group that was banned from China as “an evil cult” in 1999.
“We are not funded by Falun Gong, we don’t speak for Falun Gong, and we don’t represent Falun Gong,” said Epoch Times spokesperson Stephen Gregory.
However, according to The New York Times, The Epoch Times is published by Falun Gong.