Why Haven’t I Heard?

If 100 million people were targeted in a violent campaign consisting of illegal abductions, imprisonment, torture, and killing, we’d know about it right? Especially in the modern, interconnected world of endless cell phone-captured videos and instant messaging, surely, evidence of such a campaign would make headlines around the world.

Tragically, the answer is in this case is no, and the story of the silence that has ensued features a hard-core tyranny that has coerced and manipulated a broad range of people and institutions across Asia and the West into appeasement. But it wasn’t always the case.

Early Quality Reporting

When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) first launched the campaign to eliminate Falun Gong, it did make headline news around the world. In 1999 alone, Falun Gong was featured on the cover of the New York Times on six separate occasions, including a top story about a secret press conference held by Falun Gong practitioners on the outskirts of Beijing. This early coverage was not in-depth, perhaps due to the fact that the spiritual practice was unfamiliar to most Western journalists, but it was covered frequently.

During the following year, however, high-quality reporting emerged from a few Western outlets.

Throughout 2000, the Wall Street Journal ran a series of investigative articles that exposed how Falun Gong practitioners were routinely imprisoned and tortured, sometimes to death, around China. These articles won the Journal a Pulitzer for investigative journalism.

In 2001, the Washington Post became the first major media outlet to disclose that Chinese officials had received explicit orders to torture and brainwash Falun Gong practitioners who did not abandon their beliefs.

Earlier that year, the Post‘s Phillip Pan authored a pivotal exposé of two of the participants in the “self-immolation incident,” a false “protest” the communist regime staged in Tiananmen Square in January 2001. The incident was scripted by the CCP for the purpose of vilifying Falun Gong practitioners in the eyes of the Chinese public. Pan was the first to uncover evidence that the immolators were not Falun Gong.

Also in 2001, then-senior analyst for CNN, Willy Lam, published an investigative piece that accurately identified then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin as the driving force behind the persecution campaign, and how he had used the campaign to build up his own power base. In other words, he disclosed how the entire campaign was a political power grab by Jiang.

Beginning in 2002, however, the coverage fell off a cliff.

Evidence Abounds

For more than 20 years, the fact that millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been harassed, detained, imprisoned, tortured or killed by Chinese authorities has been regularly documented in annual reports by human rights groups and governments around the world.

Washington DC-based Freedom House, a global leader in human rights reporting and advocacy, has documented and spoken out about the persecution of Falun Gong for 22 years. Not only are abuses against Falun Gong documented in its annual Freedom in the World reports, but Freedom House has also published several special reports featuring details of Falun Gong persecution in China, including 2017’s Falun Gong: Religious Freedom in China and 2021’s China: Transnational Repression Case Study.

In July, 2021, Freedom House’s Director of Advocacy spoke at a Falun Gong rally in Washington DC, saying “Freedom House stands in solidarity today with Falun Gong practitioners and all those persecuted by the CCP. We thank you for your bravery, and we look forward to the day when all in time are able to freely exercise their fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of religion and belief.”

For more than 20 years, the annual reports of Amnesty International have documented brutal and on-going treatment of Falun Gong across China. Throughout this period, Amnesty has also issued press releases and urgent actions to advocate for individual Falun Gong practitioners, including a 2019 Urgent Action to call for the release of a High School teacher who practices Falun Gong, was wrongfully detained, and at risk of torture.

The U.S. Department of State has listed human rights abuses against Falun Gong in its annual human rights reports to Congress as has the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The U.S. Congress itself has issued five resolutions characterizing the persecution of Falun Gong as a campaign “carried out by government officials and police at all levels, and has permeated every segment of society.”

Similar documentation and statements have been done by the United Nations, the European Union, the Canadian government, and many other governments around the world.

And yet, despite this consistent documentation, beginning in 2002, accurate and meaningful reporting on Falun Gong in China largely disappeared.

What happened?

Killing the Story?

In 2001, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger traveled to China to meet with then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin. Within days, nytimes.com was unblocked in China (and remained so for some time), and a team was established to build a Chinese-language edition of the New York Times. And for the next two decades, the Times was suspiciously quiet on Falun Gong, even as rival media continued to cover the story for at least another year or two.

As recently as 2019, insiders at the Times have reported Falun Gong stories being killed.

Former Times Beijing correspondent Didi Kirsten Tatlow’s testimony to the China Tribunal discussed how forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners did take place in China, and that it was an open secret among transplant surgeons. And yet, she testifies that her editors at the Times actively discouraged her from reporting on this fact, and in the end, killed the story.

The New York Times was not alone.

In 2001, TIME magazine was pulled from every shelf in China after it published an article about Falun Gong’s presence in Hong Kong.

In 2007, Canada’s national public broadcaster, the CBC, canceled a scheduled documentary about Falun Gong after coming under pressure from the Chinese embassy (CBC held the broadcasting rights to the 2008 Beijing Olympics).

In 2010, writer Peter Manseau was working on a Falun Gong article for the Washington Post‘s Sunday magazine. His editors initially loved the idea, and suggested it might run on the cover. Several weeks after requesting a comment from the Chinese Embassy, the Post editors killed the story. Manseau was paid the full fee for his article, and not the 30% that is typical for a story that is never run. During this same time period, the Post was lobbying the Chinese government to secure a visa for one of its reporters whom Chinese officials were reluctant to let into China due to previous work he had done years earlier.

In 2014, a fictional story in the Australian edition of Reader’s Digest featured a Falun Gong refugee as a secondary character. The Chinese printing firm refused to print the magazine until it censored the story, which it did.

In 2018, Australian ABC cancelled an interview with former Miss World, Anastasia Lin due to her “affiliations.” Ms. Lin is an prominent campaigner for human rights in China, and has been very outspoken against the persecution of Falun Gong. When pressed, a producer told Lin that the decision came from “higher ups.”

Clearly, a pattern of CCP pressure resulting in silence in Western media exists, but what makes this possible? How could a foreign regime exert this much influence?

Follow the Money

As the examples of the Washington Post and the CBC above illustrate, having media access to China, especially around important events such as the Olympics or the visitation of a foreign head of state is vital for Western media. Given the scope and scale of censorship the CCP has been able to achieve in the West on the Falun Gong topic, however, the levers of influence likely go far beyond access to China.

Sadly, it’s the financial ties that constitute a greater conflict of interest in many cases.

Six corporations control 90% of U.S. media outlets in America, mostly network TV and cable, and these corporations have massive business interests in China. For example, Disney, which owns ABC and several movie studios, has opened theme parks in China. According to J.P. Morgan, the annual revenue of just the Shanghai park alone (before COVID-19) tops $1 billion. According to an account in the New York Times, Disney’s Chairman, Bob Iger, met with China’s top propaganda minister in 2010 and promised to use Disney’s global platform to spread CCP propaganda, essentially becoming an agent of CCP soft power around the world.

CNN’s parent company has a $50 million dollar partnership with a Chinese company overseen by the CCP. Slanted coverage from CNN abounds. For example, there are multiple instances of CNN singing the praises of China’s handling of the coronavirus.

The parent company of MSNBC and NBC, NBC Universal, has inked a deal with China’s state-run Xinhua “news agency” and China’s leading tech giant, Baidu. NBC Universal also has a stake in a Chinese media venture worth $3.8 billion.

The pillars of our print media are equally compromised. The Boston GlobeNew York TimesL.A. TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post, and others have billionaire majority owners that have enormous business interests overseen by the CCP. For example, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is the largest shareholder of the New York Times. Slim’s ventures with Chinese companies span automotive and high-tech industries, and constitute a significant portion of his wealth.

In short, significant if not a majority of revenue generated by some U.S. media outlets originates in China, and therefore, subject to the authoritarian rule there. At the very least, this constitutes a significant conflict of interest for these media companies.

Why the Falun Gong Exception?

Recent reports by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many others have exposed terrible human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong residents, among many others. In these areas, many U.S. media outlets do not appear to censor their coverage even though it exposes terrible abuses of power by the CCP.

Why is the Falun Gong story different?

[Marginalizing and silencing Falun Gong has been the #1 agenda of the CCP for more than 20 years]

[1999 APEC meeting]

[2001 meeting with National Security Advisor]

[Harvard Study: #1 censored topic in China]

[Pervasive pressure on local gov’s, businesses]

Why does the CCP treat Falun Gong differently?

Falun Gong is the Chinese people. They are found in all sectors, including all levels of government and even the military.

Falun Gong has become the single largest whistleblower of the CCP’s crimes on the international stage.

Falun Gong knows more about the CCP, and has the courage to let the world know. That’s the difference, and that’s why they are targeted in an all-encompassing manner.

When Western media silence the Falun Gong story, they are silencing the single most prolific source of accurate information about the biggest threat on the world’s stage. And in so doing, we all are kept in the dark not just about what’s happened to Falun Gong, but the real nature of the threat the CCP poses to all of us.

Suddenly Political