How Reuters reveals its bias over HK unrest with two ‘exclusive’ reports

By Wang Cong in Hong Kong Published: 2019/9/4 0:49:12

On Friday afternoon, as radical elements in Hong Kong were planning for massive protests in the city the next day, Reuters dropped what it billed as an exclusive report that suggested that China's central government earlier in the summer had rejected a proposal from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR)'s Chief Executive Carrie Lam to drop an extradition bill to appease protesters.

Citing three anonymous sources "with direct knowledge of the matter," the UK-headquartered news agency reported that the central government also ordered Lam not to yield to any of the five demands made by the protesters.

The report, which, as Reuters noted, represents "concrete evidence" of Beijing's control of the SAR's response to the violent protests, provided ammunition for radicals in Hong Kong and their backers, who were anxious to manipulate public opinion and direct anger in the city toward the central government.

However, there was one problem: The exclusive report was not accurate. Shortly after the Reuters' report was published, an authoritative source in Beijing told the Global Times that the story was "fake news." 

Not only did Reuters not name one credible source for such a major news report, it also provided no evidence of the existence of the reported proposal. It acknowledged in the report that it had not seen the proposal. 

The timing of the publishing of the report was also highly suspicious. It was published the day before a planned protest to mark the fifth anniversary of reforms made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to the election process for the Hong Kong chief executive on August 31, 2014.

Needless to say, the protests on Saturday, which were held illegally after failing to gain a permit from the authorities, led to more violence and chaos on the streets of Hong Kong.

Cover-up act

Despite serious questions regarding the veracity of its reporting, Reuters chose to double down rather than clarifying or providing evidence for the article. The news agency published a "special report" on Monday night, suggesting that Lam wanted to resign but the central government did not give her the option.

This time, Reuters published an audio recording of Lam saying she would quit "if I had a choice," and that she has "very limited" room to resolve the crisis in Hong Kong because it has become a national security and sovereignty issue for China.

Also, different from the assertive style in the first article, Reuters played more cautiously with careful wording. It did not say directly that Beijing did not give Lam the option to resign but that point is clear throughout the article. It claimed Lam's remarks are "consistent" with its report on Friday that Beijing is "effectively calling the shots." 

With regard to its claim on Friday that Beijing had rejected a proposal by Lam, Reuters provided no further evidence, even though that's the basis for its assertion that Beijing is "controlling" the SAR government's response in the first place.

Even then, the report had evidently grossly misrepresented Lam's remarks, which she made during a closed-door meeting with business people. At a press briefing on Tuesday morning, where questions regarding the Reuters report dominated the session, Lam repeated and categorically denied having even "contemplated" resignation.

"I have not even contemplated discussing resignation with the Central People's Government," Lam told a room full of reporters. As for her remark about resigning if she had a choice, Lam said she was merely trying to explain that "as an individual, given the very difficult circumstances, it might be an easy choice to leave," but she wants to stay on to "help Hong Kong." She further stressed that though she knows staying on in the job might not be the easy path, "I am not giving myself the choice to take an easier path."

Lam's remark directly rebutted the Reuters claim that Beijing is "calling the shots" and that somehow Lam wanted to leave but cannot. 

Following Lam's rebuttal of the Reuters report in the morning, officials at the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council reaffirmed their support for the chief executive at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

These remarks from both Lam and the central government officials should be sufficient to put the Reuters report to rest, but it remains a serious concern that the articles reveal the profound bias from Reuters over the Hong Kong situation, whether it's political bias or bias toward sensationalism. 

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