By David Bandurski — The attack last week on a Belgian television crew in Henan province has drawn condemnation from foreign media, NGOs and governments, particularly as it follows China’s recent extension of relaxed rules for foreign journalists. A statement issued by the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China said “eight thugs” had stopped the van in which journalist Tom Van de Weghe and his crew were traveling and “punched them into submission.” [Frontpage Image: “TV Reporter” by David on Formosa available at Flickr under Creative Commons license].

China’s Foreign Ministry said during a press briefing only yesterday that China was looking into the incident. [Xinhua English-language report of December 2 here].

And how quickly the results are coming in!

A Xinhua News Agency report today, featured at a number of major Web portals, says preliminary findings suggest the Belgian crew was attacked not by thugs hired by the local government, but by AIDS sufferers concerned that a foreign news report might impact their “image.”

Evidently, officials at Henan’s Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the office that announced the findings, think people are actually going to believe this version.

We’ll say no more. Here it is:

Belgian Journalists Reporting in Henan Meet Resistance from AIDS Sufferers

Xinhua News Agency, Dec. 3, Henan Channel (Gui Tao, Gui Juan reporting) — On December 2, Wang Yuejin (王跃进), deputy head of the Foreign News Office of the Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the People’s Government of Henan Province, issued preliminary findings in the investigation into dispatches from foreign news agencies alleging that three Belgian journalists were “violently attacked” (暴力袭击) while reporting in Henan.

Wang Yuejin said that based on their preliminary understanding [of the situation], journalist Tom Van de Weghe (汤伟) and his crew from the Belgian Vlaamse Radio-en Televiaieomroep (Flemish Radio and Television Network) arrived at Shaungmiao Village (双庙村) in Gangwang Township (岗王乡) of Zhecheng County (柘城县) in Henan’s Shanqiu City (商丘市) on November 27 to carry out interviews. Because this village was at the time carrying out an election at the expiration of office terms, they could not proceed with their interviews, and so they headed for Zhoukou City (周口市). At around 4:30pm that afternoon, they returned to this village to carry out interviews but were refused by villagers. Afterwards, as they were on route to Sui County they were followed by a number of AIDS sufferers and township and village workers from Gangwang Township. As they reached Sui County, these people barred the way of the vehicle in which Van de Weghe and his crew were traveling, and some of the AIDS sufferers, fearing the impact the news report might have on their image, demanded that Van de Weghe relinquish his tapes and memory cards, which he refused. The two sides then got into a tussle, and the villagers forcibly kept back (留下) the tapes, memory cards and other articles.

Wang Yuejin said they are still in the process of verifying the concrete details of the incident.

Henan’s provincial government formed a united investigation team on December 2, which headed for Shangqiu City to investigate the matter.

MORE READING:
Belgian TV crew beaten, robbed in China,” CBC, November 29, 2008
China investigates attack on Belgian journalists,” Associated Press via IHT, December 2, 2008

[Posted by David Bandurski, December 3, 2008, 12:17pm HK]