A Journalist’s Decision: What Happened Before Li Peng’s 1991 TVB Interview?

In 1991, two TVB reporters had the opportunity to interview Li Peng exclusively for the first time after the Tiananmen Massacre, but as journalists, they were faced with an ethical dilemma.The News Lens
Date: 22019/07/26
By: Qu Jialin

I can only recall two vivid instances about the "Butcher of Beijing," the first being Li's hideous face

Photo Credit: AP / TPG ImagesAt the age of 90, Li Peng (李鵬) is finally dead.
when declaring martial law in May 1989 during the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests and the second being his scripted interview in 1991 with Hong Kong's prominent broadcaster TVB, where a famous anchor humbly asked his rehearsed questions.

I am going to retell the story of the 1991 interview. It is neither a secret nor an insider story. TVB veterans often discussed the tale over casual drinks and several magazines have written about it. However, anger penetrates our generation in endless waves and we tend to forget things quickly. Our caution against TVB has only emerged in recent years, and even the younger TVB reporters are unaware of the 1991 incident, so please forgive my persistence on reiterating facts.

TVB's Exclusive Interview with the Premier of China

I keep staring at those faces these years and I have not been able to let go of the incident. It was not simply an interview, but an enlightening moment to humanity and a representation of the era we live in.

TVB interviewed Li Peng two years after the Tiananmen massacre. In 1991, China was still being sanctioned internationally as a punishment for the massacre. No foreign journalist had interviewed any Chinese leader, and no authority had openly explained the causes and consequences of the Tiananmen crackdown. The popular opinion of the time regarded Li as the leader of the suppression, calling him a "butcher" with blood on his hands and someone whom one should be ashamed of working alongside.

A Hong Kong student denounces Chinese Premier Li Peng at a rally on May 24, 1989, to support the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests in China.

In 1991, TVB aired a special program named Exclusive Interview with the Premier of China (中國總理專訪) without even mentioning Li Peng's name. The channel might have worried that an explicit program title would scare viewers away and so it decided to use a vague title instead.

To interview the leader, TVB sent a team of reporters to Beijing, which included a male anchor and a female anchor. At the time, only the most experienced reporters were qualified for the anchor position.

The unspoken rule of interviewing the leader in Beijing was that the government would not give a scheduled time. One could only wait around and hope. The TVB team, then, just waited in the hotel rooms and even avoided heading out in fear of running into other media competitors and tipping them off. Everything was treated like military secrets, and everyone had to wait inside the hotel for the government's signal.    [FULL  STORY]