This week, a sweeping sexual assault scandal facing one of China’s biggest media companies was swept under the rug and deleted from Chinese websites, a trail of error-laden web pages shows.
The firm is Phoenix Satellite Television, a private Hong Kong-based media empire worth $1.9 billion that has strong ties to the Communist Party. But it isn’t just a Chinese firm. Several current and former employees accuse Phoenix’s former Washington, D.C. bureau chief of sexually harassing interns and employees and retaliating against those who blew the whistle on the misconduct.
For a brief moment, the story began to go viral in China following a Thursday report by Washington’s CBS affiliate WUSA9, which interviewed a number of the victims and broadcast an undercover video showing the alleged advances of the bureau chief, Zhengzhu Liu, on a young reporter. “Let me hug you. I like you so much. Oh,” says Liu. “Don’t move. Don’t move. Oh, I like you so much.” After Liu says “let me ‘stick’ you,” the reporter walks out of the room saying “I really need to go now.” Liu’s lawyer says his client “denies he engaged in any unlawful conduct.” The company says it fired Liu in 2012 after it launched the investigation, but plaintiffs say it took years for the company to address the slew of harassment compliants.
In any event, it didn’t take long for the WUSA9 video to hit China’s recently-merged video streaming behemoths, Tudou and Youku. But the video has since been scrapped and attempts to click on the video fail, as the following screenshots show:
Meanwhile, articles on Xinhua, China’s official news agency, have also been deleted after aggregating a report about the suit by Agence France Presse headlined “US-based employees allege harassment at HK broadcaster.” You can see the before-and-after below or click on the link here:
Of course, erasing a story from the Internet entirely is practically impossible, and some stories about the case remain online (See here and here). In particular, Chinese media outlets have carried a press release hailing that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Washington, D.C. Field Office dismissed retaliation complaints against Phoenix Satellite Television US, a point that the firm representing the plaintiffs, Bernabei & Wachtel, argues does not vindicate Phoenix’s cause given the small number of cases in which the EEOC concludes there is “reasonable cause” to merit complaint. In any event, none of the stories carrying Phoenix’s press release appear to have been deleted. So why would a private media company win protection from China’s censorship aparatus? It’s an intriguing question.
Reports by the Associated Press and Mother Jones have done a good job at uncovering the jaw-dropping scale of the allegations againts Liu, including “encouraging job applicants to meet him in hotel rooms for interviews and then groping them, attempting to coerce the wife of a cameraman to have sex with him to preserve her husband’s job, telling a job candidate about the ‘gigantic and powerful penis’ of his black friend, and attempting to rape a reporter,” as reporter Dana Liebelson noted last week. But what has not been widely publicized is the connections that Phoenix, one of the few private broadcasters allowed to operate in mainland China, has to the Communist Party. The CEO of the U.S. subsidary is Wu Xiaoyong, son of China’s former Vice Premier Wu Xueqian. The current CEO is Liu Changle, who was promoted in March to be a Standing Committee Member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Wu’s father was vice chairman of that committee after being elected in 1993.
It’s impossible to prove that the company’s political connections had anything to do with the censorship, but it’s a question worth asking. For now, we’re willing to provide the censored video below to any Chinese residents who managed to subert China’s Great Fire Wall and visit FP: