CNN says China is blocking coverage of tennis player Peng Shuai’s disappearance

‘We understand that as I speak about this, CNN goes to black in China because they don’t want it broadcast,’ Erin Burnett says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 19 November 2021 19:59
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CNN anchors have said that China has blocked the network’s coverage of the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai, claiming that screens go black in the country as soon as the case is mentioned.

Ms Peng accused Zhang Gaoli, China’s Vice Premier, of sexual assault in a post on the microblogging platform Weibo on 2 November and hasn’t been seen since.

“China is once again blocking CNN’s signal to prevent further reporting on the disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai,” anchor Anderson Cooper said on Thursday.

“Every time CNN covers this story, the Chinese government blocks CNN’s signal there,” he added.

Fellow CNN anchor Erin Burnett reported on her programme that a Chinese government spokesperson said that Ms Peng’s case was “not a diplomatic issue” when asked about her whereabouts.

“We understand that as I speak about this, CNN goes to black in China because they don’t want it broadcast,” Ms Burnett said.

Since Ms Peng made the assault allegation, her name and subjects related to her have been removed from Chinese social media platforms and websites.

The internet in China is often censored, with topics thought to be uncomfortable for the government being removed.

Chinese state media published a letter on Wednesday that they claimed was written by Ms Peng.

“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor I am unsafe,” the letter said.

“I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me,” CGTN claims that Ms Peng added.

But the release of the letter has been met with scepticism concerning its authenticity and increased worry for Ms Peng’s wellbeing.

The chairman of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, has said that an investigation into Ms Peng’s allegations should be conducted and that no one has been able to directly speak to the tennis star since her post on Weibo was published.

China also blocked CNN’s coverage in December 2019 when it reported on the democracy movement in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, tweeted that the letter is “not meant to convince people but to intimidate and demonstrate the power of the state: ‘We are telling you that she is fine, and who are you to say otherwise?’”

Cooper said on Thursday that Ms Peng “accused a former communist leader of coercing her into sex at his home three years ago. The allegation was posted on her social media account deleted within 30 minutes”.

CNN correspondent Will Ripley, who has covered China for eight years, said on the broadcast that he has “lost count of the number of times that our reporting on CNN has been blocked by Chinese censors”.

“Every time we talk about something controversial, whether it be women’s rights, Chinese censors, essentially cancelling the Me Too movement in that country, because anytime there’s a controversial post like this, it’s wiped off the internet,” he added. “They pull any sort of controversial television programmes off of streaming services, there was a TV programme about gay high school students that was hugely popular in the mainland that was yanked by the government midseason.”

“Peng Shuai is just the latest example of how nobody, even an iconic, worldwide tennis champion, who’s beloved, inside and outside of China, nobody is immune from these Chinese censors,” Ripley said. “This is the reality when you have a country that is essentially being run by a bunch of old men, a bunch of old men who believe in traditional Chinese values, and will use their immense power to cancel things on television, to cancel things on the internet, they will cancel anything that they think doesn’t somehow fit into traditional Chinese values.”

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