Recalling Two Famous Hoaxes

Two fake stories—a funny one in the UK, a deadly one in China—illustrate the power of media
By Thomas Sterling
Thomas Sterling
Thomas Sterling
April 1, 2020Updated: April 7, 2020


In the early years of television, the BBC ran a sober documentary about the year’s harvest in Switzerland. The crop: spaghetti grown on trees.

So convincing was the report that the BBC’s phones were flooded with calls from credulous British viewers with questions, including where they could obtain their own spaghetti trees.

The date was April 1, 1957.

David Wheeler, the program’s producer, told BBC this in 2004, “I think it was a good idea for people to be aware they couldn’t believe everything they saw on the television and that they ought to adopt a slightly critical attitude to it.”

If only every television program came with a warning label like that.

In January 2001, a news report was broadcast in China that caused a sensation and changed people’s opinions, changed their hearts. It was staged, but the CCP-controlled media never admitted to it.

The report purported to show 5 or 7 people (the story changed) setting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square in protest.

Would there be policemen waiting around in Tiananmen Square with fire extinguishers and fire-proof blankets on most days? These facts and many others are examined in a documentary, False Fire. The award-winning analysis debunks the CCP claims about the event.

The people supposedly setting themselves on fire were claimed to be Falun Gong practitioners.

Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese discipline of meditation and exercise whose practitioners study and strive to live by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It grew to have more than 100 million practitioners. Then the CCP began a systematic persecution campaign.

Millions have been detained, where they often endure long hours of slave labor, brainwashing and torture. Thousands have been confirmed as having died from torture, although the true number of such deaths is unknown. In what has been described as a “cold genocide,” large numbers of practitioners have been killed for their organs, used to supply China’s burgeoning transplant industry.

In January 2001, most Chinese people were either sympathetic or indifferent to the situation of Falun Gong practitioners. The horrible scenes of people setting themselves alight, and of follow-up interviews with them in hospitals, created a wave of negative opinion toward the practitioners and their practice.

To this day, many Chinese people don’t want to believe the goodness of Falun Gong, and a large factor in their aversion is the hoax documentary broadcast 19 years ago.

Television has the power to elicit laughter, and it has the power make or break reputations. That power is sometimes abused terribly.

In China, this has been a real tragedy, as human lives could have been saved if media acting on behalf of the malevolent CCP had not abused their power.

In the comical spaghetti trees we saw the power media can wield, and in the persecution of Falun Gong we have seen that power used for evil.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.