Local television station i-Cable has criticised what it said was a smearing attempt after some claimed that its reporter was attacked for using foul language whilst reporting in Sichuan.

Journalists from Hong Kong were in the southwestern Chinese province covering the tenth-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake on May 8, 2008 that claimed around 87,000 lives.

i-Cable reporter Chan Ho-fai. Photo: i-Cable screenshot.

On Saturday, outside the old site of Juyuan High School, Commercial Radio’s Edward Lui was surrounded by thugs who tried to drag him out of the vehicle and take the equipment in his bag, but relatives of the victims pulled them off and prevented them from getting close to Lui.

Chan Ho-fai, a reporter from i-Cable TV News, then took out his phone to record the events and was subsequently beaten up by two men in Dujiangyan, suffering multiple injuries.

A group on Facebook which, according to its name, “monitors the activities of national traitors,” later posted a screencap from i-Cable TV on the incident with the subtitles edited. The post claimed that the reporter had used insulting language, angering villagers and prompting them to beat him up.

The edited screenshot on social media.

It claimed that the reporter said “Chee-na” – an archaic Japanese name for China that still bears an offensive meaning to most Chinese people.

In a statement published by i-Cable’s China team, the television station expressed condemnation of the “blatant disregard of the truth and the malicious damaging of i-Cable’s reputation.” It said that it reserves the right to take legal action.

The provincial government brought the two assailants to Chan to apologise for their actions later that day. Although the men claimed that they were ordinary residents, locals identified them as belonging to the local government, according to TVB news.

The two assailants. Photo: i-Cable screencap.

The head of the local propaganda unit claimed that the gang which surrounded the Commercial Radio reporters were families of the earthquake’s victims, but Lui said on Monday that he did not think so and believed they wanted to stop him from reporting.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who had also been in Sichuan for a work trip, told reporters at the airport on Sunday that she has expressed her concerns to the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and its Sichuan branch, urging them to investigate.

“Even though the incident did not take place in Hong Kong, Hong Kong journalists abroad – including those carrying out in reporting duties lawfully in the mainland – should be respected and their safety should be protected,” she said.

Lam also said the local government must act in accordance with its own laws and mechanisms and that she cannot tell them what to do. She added that she believed the provincial government will follow up with the incident.

The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association said that they were “shocked” by the incident and “strongly condemn the acts of violence.” It urged “the local government and relevant authorities to conduct a thorough investigation seriously and to make utmost efforts to protect the safety and proper reporting rights of Hong Kong reporters.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.