Beijing’s Cardboard-Stuffed Buns a Hoax

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

BEIJING – A freelance reporter for a Beijing television station has been detained for faking a hidden camera report about street vendors who used chemical-soaked cardboard to fill meat buns, local media said.

The report came amid real food scares involving toxic fish, tainted pork and egg yolks colored with a cancer-causing dye that have harmed China’s reputation as an exporter and alarmed people at home.

The story, allegedly shot with a hidden camera, was first broadcast on Beijing Television’s Life Channel on July 8 and then again on China Central Television last week.

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It created a buzz on the Internet, and people flooded chat rooms with comments expressing shock and disgust. On the YouTube Web site, the video had been viewed more than 6,000 times by Thursday.

Beijing Television apologized to the public during an evening news broadcast Wednesday and said the reporter, identified by the official Xinhua News Agency as Zi Beijia, was detained by police. A copy of the broadcast was obtained by AP Television News on Thursday.

“He used deceptive means to get the footage on the air,” said news anchor Wang Ye, without giving specifics. “The Beijing Public Security Bureau has taken the criminal suspect, Zi, into custody and he will be severely dealt with according to law.”

Zi’s footage appeared to show a makeshift kitchen where fluffy buns were stuffed with 60 percent cardboard that had been softened in a bath of caustic soda and 40 percent fatty pork.

Beijing Television said an investigation revealed that in mid-June, Zi brought meat, flour, cardboard and other ingredients to a downtown Beijing neighborhood and had four migrant workers make the buns for him while he filmed the process. It said Zi “gave them the idea” of mincing softened cardboard and adding it to the buns.

The newscaster said the station was “profoundly sorry” for the fake report and its “vile impact on society.” The station vowed to prevent inaccurate news coverage in the future.

Police said Zi told editors he wanted to investigate the quality of pork buns, and spent two weeks visiting stands but could not find anything to report, Xinhua said. He filmed the fake report after coming under pressure to produce a story, the agency said.

The report prompted Beijing’s health authorities to investigate more than two dozen vendors selling pork buns _ a common breakfast in China. None was found to use cardboard.

Authorities said specialists determined it was impossible for cardboard buns to go unnoticed.

“Even if you mix a tiny proportion, to say 5 percent, of cardboard, the fiber substance can be easily seen, and the meat buns made this way could not be easily chewed,” Xinhua said, citing a Beijing Municipal Food Safety Office spokesman.

(This version CORRECTS PMs. corrects that footage first aired July 8 sted June 8. )

A service of the Associated Press(AP)