Chinese TV accused of editing out shots of World Cup fans without face masks

A fan of Croatia celebrates after the team defeated Canada 4-1 in the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match between Croatia and Canada at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 27, 2022. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Croatia fans celebrate their team's win over Canada at the World Cup, but supporters may not have been pictured on Chinese state TV. (AFP via Getty Images)

China has been accused of editing out footage of football fans at World Cup matches who are not wearing face masks on the country's state-run TV, as protests continue against its strict COVID measures.

A number of journalists and news outlets have compared the feed of matches on state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) with other broadcasts, and found that crowds rarely feature in the Chinese version.

It has been claimed that Chinese television is showing the matches on a 30-second delay, giving it just enough time to remove pictures of fans not wearing face masks and replace them with footage of players or coaches.

The controversial move comes as police in China have detained several people protesting against its strict COVID measures.

Watch: Protests over China's strict COVID lockdown hit Shanghai and other cities

Police in Shanghai detained several people on Monday at a site that has seen two nights of protests against the country's zero-COVID approach, which involves mass testing, quarantines and snap lockdowns.

Side-by side comparisons of China's coverage with the standard World Cup feed have been made by several journalists on social media.

Bill Birtles, East Asia correspondent at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), posted videos comparing the two versions of Sunday's match between Croatia and Canada.

In the standard feed, a goal scored by Croatia is followed by shots of maskless fans in the crowd celebrating, but in the Chinese version, this is replaced by images of the coaching staff.

Journalist Mark Dreyer, founder of China Sports Insider, found a similar pattern when comparing the two feeds of the match between Tunisia and Australia on Saturday.

Read more: England fans fuming with 90-second live delay after BBC iPlayer crashes during Iran match

People gather on a street in Shanghai on November 27, 2022, where protests against China's zero-Covid policy took place the night before following a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region.
People protesting in Shanghai on Sunday against China's zero-COVID measures. (AFP)

He tweeted: "This is amazing. Due to the backlash from Chinese fans seeing unmasked crowds in Qatar, Chinese TV is now replacing live crowds shots during games and instead cutting to close-ups of players and coaches."

Stephen McDonell, China correspondent at the BBC, also tweeted: "I couldn’t believe it until I checked but, amidst zero-COVID protests here, China Central Television (CCTV) is editing out close-ups of spectators in its coverage of the World Cup so Chinese viewers don’t see thousands of fans without masks in the stands. Only crowd wide shots."

Millions of people in cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou were under some form of COVID lockdown at the weekend, prompting the protests. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Beijing and Shanghai to protest against Chinese president Xi Jinping and his measures.

The BBC said its cameraman Edward Lawrence was “arrested and handcuffed” and then “beaten and kicked” by police while covering demonstrations in Shanghai.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai.

“He was held for several hours before being released. During his arrest he was beaten and kicked by 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 whist carrying out his duties.”