Let’s take a trip back to 2 November and remember a Weibo post by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. In that post, Shuai made a startling accusation that she had been forced to have sex with a high ranking member of the Chinese government. Peng alleged at the time that the official, China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, had coerced her into sex and had failed to meet her, prompting her Weibo post. Peng’s post was live for about 30 minutes before it disappeared. Over the next few days, Shuai disappeared from public life but after a number of weeks, reappeared although seemingly adopting a completely different attitude to the whole incident, claiming she was in good spirits and ready to return to the professional tennis circuit.

Fast forward to this week, 6 February, to be precise, when Shuai was in the news again following her first interview with a Western media platform, French newspaper, L’Equipe. The interview was conducted under strange circumstances, to say the least.  Shuai attended the interview accompanied by the Chinese Olympic Committee’s chief of staff, while L’Équipe journalists, Sophie Dorgan and Marc Ventouillac were required to submit questions in advance and publish her comments verbatim in question-and-answer form, which was pre agreed.

One might wonder if international media platforms were offered the interview and if not, why   L’Équipe was given the task, especially given the fact that they are not a primary English publication. Indeed, while they would be one of the most renowned newspapers, it seems strange to me that they were the first choice, if indeed that was the case.

But reading through the interview gave me a sense of dread. Here we have two professional journalists, both with a decent history of good solid work, being used as a propaganda mouthpiece for what is really nothing more than a short term scoop. Quoting line after line of well rehearsed statements that tell us only one thing – Shuai has been silenced forever, the article is sham and an embarrassment for anyone who dared to put their name to it.

On a global, scale, sadly this story is a minor one, but nevertheless, there is the safety of a vulnerable woman to be considered paramount here. I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of people who are aware of this entire sorry story are falling on the side of Shuai and at the very least, sceptical of any official party line being played here by the Chinese government. Yet it seems that the L’Equipe journalists have somewhat forgotten what they should stand for. Indeed, there may have been some cloud hanging over the meeting and it would have been a waste of time getting there and ending up losing the opportunity of seeing Shuai because of questions asked outside the protocol.

But we need to draw the line when it comes to the truth and it is here that L’Equipe and the two journalists have failed. They continue to be purveyors of propaganda by publishing the article verbatim, without any additions indicating that this entire job was not genuine. Being a witness to a crime is OK if you are outside the option of being an influence, but witnessing a crime and becoming an accessory is not the moral position any journalist should take. There comes a moment when you feel the need to follow up and tell the world that you don’t believe the answers or that you won’t subscribe to the way the interview is being conducted.

How unfortunate, that a newspaper like L’Equipe is far too imbedded in the corporate mindset to allow any kind of action that could be considered the right thing to do, instead thinking of shareholders, advertisements and, of course, markets like China. And how unfortunate that one of the journalists, Sophie Dorgan, posting on her Twitter account today can only say one line in defence of this sorry state of journalism;

“Je pense fort à Peng Shuai.”

“I think a lot about Peng Shuai”

Right, you should Sophie, but not in the way that you want us to believe you do.

Featured image by Pixabay on Pexels.

Bernhardt Müller
International based and Interested in European education, current affairs and political science.

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