Foreign Media in China Harassed on Tibet

BEIJING (AP) -- Western reporters in China have received harassing phone calls, e-mails and text messages, some with death threats, supposedly from ordinary Chinese complaining about alleged bias in coverage of recent anti-Chinese protests in Tibet.

The harassment began two weeks ago and was largely targeted at foreign television broadcasters, CNN in particular. But the campaign broadened in recent days after the mobile phone numbers and other contact information for reporters from The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today were posted on several Web sites, including a military affairs chat site.

"The Chinese people don't welcome you American running dog. Your reports twist the facts and will suffer the curse of heaven," said one e-mail received by the AP. One text message said: "One of these days I'm going to kill you."

Those sending the messages and making the calls say they are ordinary Chinese, a claim that could not be verified.

Spokesmen for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government's State Council Information Office and the national police ministry did not respond to telephone calls and faxed questions Monday seeking comment about the threats.

The barrage of angry complaints seems to mark the latest outburst by nationalistic Chinese directed at foreigners and channeled through mobile phones and the Internet. Three years ago, anti-Japanese demonstrations organized by e-mail and mobile phone occurred in a half-dozen Chinese cities to protest historical grievances dating from World War II.

The complaints against foreign media come just four months before 30,000 journalists from around the world come to Beijing for an Olympics meant to feature a more open, modern China.

The criticisms touch on a sensitive issue: China's rule over Tibet. Chinese are taught in schools and through the wholly controlled state media that Tibet has been part of China for centuries, and that Chinese investment and political reform has lifted the region out of abject poverty and vastly improved living standards.

Some Tibetans however complain that Beijing's rule has resulted in a loss of religious freedom, economic disenfranchisement, and the watering down of their culture and language.

Sometimes violent anti-Chinese protests that began in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in mid-March and spread across Tibetan communities in western China have drawn intense media coverage and also touched off protests by Tibetans worldwide often outside Chinese diplomatic missions.

Complaints by Chinese have largely centered on Western media outlets that either cropped or captioned photographs and footage in ways some Chinese have found misleading. Several Web sites, for example, showed photographs of Indian or Nepali police forcefully detaining Tibetan demonstrators but misidentified them as Chinese security forces.

The complaints coalesced around a Web site started by a Chinese resident of Beijing that catalogued the supposed bias.

Asked about the criticisms at a briefing in late March, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called them a "spontaneous condemnation and judgment on irresponsible and malicious reporting that violated professional ethics."

Contact information for reporters from the AP, Wall Street Journal and USA Today was posted online after they were among a group of foreign media taken by the Chinese government to Lhasa to report on conditions two weeks after the violent protests.

The Web sites listed the reporters as those who "fabricated untrue news about Tibet." Neither the Web sites nor government officials have cited specific criticisms about the reports.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has urged its members to be more vigilant about security following the threats.

"Even if you've not received such messages, foreign correspondents in China should be aware of the negative emotions triggered by local perceptions of Western media 'bias,'" the Beijing-based club said in a statement Monday.

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