The New York Times has been called upon to report honestly and fairly on the Falun Gong spiritual practice after it published a controversial report about the Epoch Times media.
The call was made by the Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC), which said The New York Times had spread falsehoods about Falun Gong in an attack on a rival media.
In a statement, the center appealed to “The New York Times to remove whatever policies, influences, and/or biases currently in place that are preventing fair and accurate reporting on Falun Gong, and get the story, the whole story, right.”
The lengthy article, published on October 25, made a number of claims about The Epoch Times. The Epoch Times responded saying the piece was “light on facts and heavy on bias.” Meanwhile, the FDIC and its executive director, Levi Browde, said the article included falsehoods about Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa.
“We are not privy to the inner-workings of The Epoch Times, and so cannot comment on those points made in this article,” said Browde. “However, given the falsehoods propagated about Falun Gong, it is reasonable to question the objectivity, if not the integrity, of the article as a whole.”
In a detailed statement, the FDIC — which describes itself as a press office for Falun Gong as well as a primary resource for information about the human rights abuses that practitioners face at the hands of the Chinese Communist regime — addressed not only the article but the newspaper’s coverage of the practice over the past several decades.
The center said that the New York Times article propagated false narratives and inaccuracies about the spiritual practice, as well as “a striking trivialization of the nature and scale of human rights abuses faced by Falun Gong practitioners in China” since the persecution began in 1999. The practice was only made public in 1992, but due to its health and moral benefits, it quickly gained a large following numbering in the tens of millions.
“We are saddened to see The New York Times malign Falun Gong in an attack on a rival media outlet,” Browde said. “The mistakes made in this article about the Buddhist-based spiritual practice as well as the significant omissions surrounding the persecution in China signal a bizarre and troubling downturn of what was once a pillar of American journalism,” he said.
The FDIC said that the article “carries blatant falsehoods about the Falun Gong teachings and beliefs” and went on to give an example with the article propagating the idea that Falun Gong “forbids interracial marriage.” The center pointed out that “even the most casual examination of Falun Gong communities anywhere around the world, including here in New York, demonstrates that interracial marriage and mixed-race children abound.”
The FDIC statement pointed out that Browde himself, plus several members of the volunteer staff at the center, are in interracial marriages, many with children. All practice Falun Gong.
The center said that such lies originate from official Chinese sources. “In recent years, Chinese embassy websites throughout the West have started to use this phrase to demonize Falun Gong in their English language propaganda because they know it will be triggering in the West,” said the FDIC.
“By including this falsehood in the article, The New York Times demonstrates either a failure to conduct even a basic level of fact-checking or worse, knowingly included it to strengthen the narrative of the story.”
The FDIC said the article similarly repeated additional Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda points on Falun Gong. It also included subtler, yet no less misleading, statements, the FDIC said.
The center also criticized the article’s attempt to ascribe a specific political profile to Falun Gong.
“The Falun Gong community, as well as Falun Gong’s founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi, have no political ties in the U.S. or elsewhere. In fact, Mr. Li has repeatedly called upon Falun Gong practitioners to not involve the practice in politics,” the FDIC said.
“Of course, individuals within the Falun Gong community hold their own beliefs that span the political spectrum, from the very liberal to the very conservative, and everything in between. However, the community of practitioners does not involve itself, as a group or community, in politics, nor support any given politician,” the statement said.
“Furthermore, if you look at the support Falun Gong has received, particularly in the United States, it is clear Falun Gong remains entirely a non-partisan issue, as it should be,” it said.
Browde suggested that the article is part of a trend for the newspaper.
“The problematic reporting in this article is sadly, not an anomaly,” Browde said. “Rather, it comes in the context of a 20-year-long near-complete silence by The New York Times on terrible human rights abuses ongoing in China against ordinary Chinese who practice Falun Gong, despite reporting on other persecuted religious groups in China and elsewhere,” he said.
The FDIC statement went on to point out that at least one former reporter has publicly stated that she was discouraged from investigating evidence of forced organ removals from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.
The statement then gave the newspaper’s history of ignoring the persecution of Falun Gong in China, something that it has been pointed out has been well documented elsewhere.
“All this begs the question — in the face of such extensive documentation by human rights organizations, democratic governments in the West, the United Nations, and many of other media outlets, in this article why would The New York Times characterize the entirety of the evidence as “The group… accuses”? Is The New York Times reticent to tell the full story about the persecution of Falun Gong, and if so, why?” asked the FDIC, which then offered an explanation.
“Perhaps, it has something to do with the meeting between New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and former CCP leader Jiang Zemin (who single-handedly started the persecution of Falun Gong) back in 2001? After this meeting, there was no meaningful reportage about the Falun Gong persecution for the next 20 years (with one notable exception: the work of Andrew Jacobs),” the statement added.