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

A message in English and Mandarin on a background of colour bars, reads: “No signal, please stand by.”

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
,Oliver O'Connell
Monday 22 November 2021 14:51 GMT
CNN shows in real-time how China blocks Peng Shuai coverage

CNN says China is still censoring its coverage of the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai.

In a segment of Monday’s edition of New Day, viewers were shown in real-time how China blocks the network’s feed when stories air of which the government does not approve.

As reporter Will Ripley spoke with anchor John Berman live from Taipei in Taiwan, CNN included a live feed to show its US audience what viewers in China are currently seeing — a message in English and Mandarin on a background of colour bars, reading: “No signal, please stand by.”

Mr Berman noted that the signal dropped as soon as Mr Ripley began to speak about Ms Peng, and asked him to explain what was happening.

“Chinese censors, John,” said the international correspondent. “I have lost count over the past eight years here in Asia covering China how many times CNN’s coverage of controversial issues has been censored.”

“It used to go to straight black, but now they’ve upgraded to colour bars,” he continued. “Nonetheless it is a live real-time example of the censorship that is happening in the mainland. They scrub Peng Shuai from the internet, they’re certainly not talking about this on television, and even international networks.”

He added: “They have an army of censors waiting to push that button the minute we start talking about this story, but it is not making this story go away, the pressure is still mounting on Beijing from the outside because of the efforts of journalists around the world, and also diplomats, wanting Peng Shuai to speak her truth.”

Ms Peng accused Zhang Gaoli, China’s Vice Premier, of sexual assault in a post on the microblogging platform Weibo on 2 November.

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.

CNN anchors have previously spoken out about how China has blocked the network’s coverage of Ms Peng’s disappearance.

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

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

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.

A concerted effort appears to be underway in China to make Ms Peng more visible. On Sunday she appeared at a children’s tennis tournament in Beijing and on a video call with the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC has since been accused of engaging in a “publicity stunt” amid calls for a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. The organisation has been called “tone deaf” and human rights activists said that the call was set up to protect political and commercial interests surrounding the games.

A spokesperson for the Women’s Tennis Association said: “It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.”

On Saturday Ms Peng was also seen out for dinner with friends, and new images of Peng Shuai were posted online by a journalist working with a state TV channel, leading to further speculation about the missing Chinese tennis star.

The photos showed Peng with a grey cat and holding a panda figurine in what appeared to be a private home. Stuffed animals are lined up behind her in the photos. There was no indication of when the photos were taken.

Chinese state media had already published a letter on Wednesday that they claimed was written by Ms Peng which said that the allegation of sexual assault was not true and that she was not unsafe.

All of these appearances and statements have been met with international scepticism.

China previously blocked CNN’s coverage in December 2019 when it reported on the democracy movement in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Mr Ripley has previously spoken out about Chinese censorship.

“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 said. “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,” Mr Ripley added. “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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