Chinese government has denounced the BBC for reporting “fake news,” describing the corporation as "naturally unpopular" over its coverage of devastating floods in central China.
Beijing’s severe attack on Thursday comes on the heels of BBC’s accusations of China over alleged harassment of its journalists by nationalists in China’s Central Province of Henan, where record flooding led to the deaths of 99 people.
The BBC afterwards claimed that its journalists reporting on the floods were faced with a gush of fury and vitriol online, while other outlets had been harassed on the ground in "attacks which continue to endanger foreign journalists."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, hit back at the claims, calling the BBC a "Fake News Broadcasting Company" that has "attacked and smeared China, seriously deviating from journalistic standards."
He added that the BBC should be "unpopular with the Chinese public" and "there is no such thing as hatred without reason."
The war of words erupted after Henan Communist Youth League posted comments online on Tuesday, urging its 1.6 million followers to track the movements of BBC reporters, which allegedly spurred death threats against BBC correspondents from nationalistic users.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China claimed in a statement that journalists in Zhengzhou, where the heavy rain claimed the lives of 14 people, were surrounded by angry locals and grabbed, while Chinese news assistants had received "threatening messages."
"Rhetoric from organizations affiliated with China's ruling Communist Party directly endangers the physical safety of foreign journalists in China and hinders free reporting," it warned.
The AFP news agency raised a similar claim, accusing Zhengzhou residents of forcing the reporters to delete footage.
Zhao rejected the claims and said foreign correspondents "enjoy an open and free reporting environment in China."
Chinese officials and state media had previously accused some Western news organizations of prejudice against China.
Earlier this year, China banned the BBC as a result of a “slew of falsified reporting” on China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and China’s handling of the coronavirus, according to Chinese officials.