Beijing TV Staff Disciplined for Discrediting State

July 25, 2007 Updated: July 25, 2007

After Beijing authorities determined that a news report by the Beijing Television Station (BTV) about dumplings with cardboard stuffing that had gained public attention was false, several staff at the station were disciplined.

According to media reports in China, in early July, a BTV weekly program called Transparency reported on dumplings allegedly filled with cardboard stuffing. Local state officials later determined the report to be erroneous.

BTV reporter Zi Beijia and other employees from the television station were taken into police custody. Disciplinary actions were taken against several senior executives at BTV. The deputy director in charge of the program, Life, the deputy director responsible for the program, Transparency, and its producer were removed from their posts. The TV station's president, Liu Aiqin, was criticized by Beijing authorities, and Zhang Xiao, BTV's editor-in-chief, was officially admonished. On July 18, BTV broadcast an apology to the public over the incident.

'The Reputation of the State Seriously Tarnished'

At a news conference held on July 20, Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Control in China, in reference to the news report about the alleged cardboard-stuffed dumplings, accused foreign media of misrepresenting the facts in their recent reports about widespread tainted Chinese products, and demanded that the media should “speak based on facts.” Li Cunhou, a high-ranking official from China's Journalist Association, faulted false reports for their role in tarnishing China's name and damaging the interests of the general public, “causing serious economic losses and a bad effect on society,” said Li. “Its negative effect can never be underestimated.”

Newspaper Reporter Denied Access

Mingpao Daily reported that on July 19 its reporter went to 13 Shizikou Village, Taiyanggong County, Chaoyang District in Beijing, where the dumplings with paper stuffing were made, but the reporter was almost physically beaten by people whose identities were unknown.

According to the paper, the place was closely guarded by uniformed security guards and was watched by unidentified plainclothes men. One woman told the reporter that a county leader called to say that no reporters were allowed near the place.

Local residents revealed to the reporter that there are several small shops in the area making counterfeit brand-name cigarettes, wines, and liquors, and inexpensive lunch boxes. Because of the tenants' connections with the county government, they always passed inspection easily, according to residents.

Misinformation Is Better Than Fake Dumplings

Although Beijing authorities have officially publicized that the TV reports about cardboard-stuffed dumplings were untrue, many observers in China and overseas have doubted the legitimacy of the official investigation and called for more transparency.

One Internet surfer commented that given the tight control over public opinion in China, BTV is more likely to refrain from reporting the fact than to fabricate a story to discredit China.

Another person left a message on the BBS of the BBC Web site, saying, “Because of the declining morality [in China], there are simply too many liars these days. So people tend to believe reports about ugly things, and doubt and challenge rosy ones.”

Many people suspected that the disciplined BTV employees became scapegoats because the report had tarnished China's image as the host to the 2008 Olympic Games and proved unhelpful in the country's trade relations with the United States.