Chinese football fans have been streamed a censored feed of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as politicians desperately try to stop images of large, unmasked crowds reaching the local population as protests rage against harsh Covid measures.
FIFA has tightly controlled the vision showed from the World Cup and every nation gets the same feed – except China.
A comparison of footage from the Cup shows that the China Central Television (CCTV) broadcasting company has been intercepting vision from the tournament and doctoring crowd shots by using a 30-second delay.
Images like this wide shot of Canada fans during their FIFA World Cup match against Croatia have been censored from reaching China
Vision showing maskless fans has been removed because while most of the world has moved on from pandemic lockdown measures, China still faces harsh restrictions under its Covid Zero policy.
Some regions of the People’s Republic of China are still in lockdown, Chinese residents have been forced to take Covid tests every day, and large street protests have erupted with demonstrators calling for politicians to resign.
The protests have intensified since a fatal fire at a Urumqi unit complex in the western Xinjiang region killed 10 people two days ago. The building was under lockdown despite being classed as low risk for Covid.
Covid Zero, the strict policy enacted by China president Xi Jinping, has been widely criticised with a record number of cases nationwide, as the virus surges.
Civil disobedience has increased across the country, including passive protests and outright opposition to the Communist Party, Jinping and the controversial policy.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) East Asia Correspondent Bill Birtles showed the shocking difference in vision that China is receiving using side-by-side comparisons with the SBS World Cup feed that Australians are enjoying.
‘So I thought it was BS that China’s govt broadcaster was censoring shots of fans at the World Cup due to lockdown anger back home. But it’s true,’ he posted on Twitter.
‘Here are live feeds from SBS & CCTV (which has a 32 second delay). As @DreyerChina explained, CCTV avoids crowd close ups:
Instead of crowds, the CCTV vision focuses on tight shots on the sideline and today showed footage of Canada’s coach John Herdman while the rest of the world got fans celebrating
‘Here’s the Canadian goal from the same match. The int’l feed everyone else gets shows fans close up. CCTV switches out those shots with feeds of coaches or wide shots. Watched 2 games – very obvious. It’s imperfect though – one cheering fans shot snuck through in the replay:
‘So the usual suspects will claim that China’s govt TV CCTV isn’t censoring crowd close ups because a few shots do get through… or they choose to use different shots … but it is very clear. Although a mate in Beijing told me he hadn’t noticed anything unusual,’ he concluded with a laughing emoji.’
Former Sky Sports, Fox Sports and AP Sports employee Mark Dreyer created China Sports Insider in 2013 and he has also pointed out the censored vision on Twitter.
‘Some people still refusing to see this, so decided to track it. Within a minute, there was this: close-up shots of Canadian and Croatian fans on BBC/international feed, replaced by a solo shot of Canadian coach John Herdman on CCTV,’ he posted.
‘Moments later, Croatia scored. The rest of the world saw shots of joyous Croatian fans, but on CCTV they showed close-up of shots of the two coaches. Case rested.’
The censorship comes at the same time a BBC journalist covering an anti-lockdown protest in China was arrested during wild protests over Xi Jinping’s dictatorship and Covid lockdowns in seven Chinese cities including Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou.
The BBC’s Edward Lawrence is a camera operator for the Corporation’s China bureau and he was filmed being dragged away by Xi’s officers as he desperately screamed, ‘Call the consulate now!’ to a friend.
Hours before his arrest, Lawrence had tweeted: ‘I’m at the scene of last night’s extraordinary anti Covid-zero protest in Shanghai. Many people are gathered here quietly watching. Lots of cops. Two girls laid flowers which were promptly removed by police. One man drove past with middle finger up at police. #shanghai’.
Police officers detain people during a protest against Covid curbs at the site of a candlelight vigil for victims of the Urumqi fire in Shanghai
He was held for several hours before being released and a BBC spokeperson said they were concerned over his treatment.
‘The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,’ the spokesperson said.
People gather for a vigil and hold white sheets of paper in protest of Covid restrictions, as they commemorate the victims of a fire in Urumqi, as outbreaks of Covid continue in Beijing
‘During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. This happened while he was working as an accredited journalist.
‘It is very worrying that one of our journalists was attacked in this way whilst carrying out his duties. We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim by the officials who later released him that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd. We do not consider this a credible explanation.’