2013-07-31 08:00:00

After Asiana Crash, Chinese Media Reporters Booted from SF Hospital

SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco Sheriff’s Department deputies requested Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily retract a story by one of its reporters alleging that he was discriminated against when he was booted out of San Francisco General Hospital, while reporting on the victims of the Asiana Airlines crash. Sing Tao Daily, one of the largest Chinese-language newspapers in the United States, which has a bureau in South San Francisco, stood by its reporter, saying it would not retract the story. 

The plane, carrying 307 people who were mostly Chinese and Korean nationals, crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, killing three and injuring about 120 people. The victims were sent to trauma units in hospitals throughout the Bay Area.

On July 9, Sing Tao reporter Zheng Zhang and Jieyu Yan, a reporter with SinoVision, Inc., were escorted off the premises of SF General by Deputy E. Simms, for allegedly violating hospital policy. The Sheriff’s Department is contracted to provide security at SF General and other hospitals.

Zhang said that while they were asked to leave, an ABC cameraman on the same floor of the hospital was allowed to stay. Zhang said Simms told them that the hospital has a “hierarchy of proportional access” for media, in which large outlets such as ABC are prioritized over smaller outlets.

“I think the way he explained the hospital policy is wrong,” said Zhang, adding that it was “discriminating [against] us.” Jieyu Yan declined to be interviewed for this report.

In an interview with SF Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on a related story, Zhang asked the Sheriff about the deputy’s actions, and quoted Mirkarimi’s response in an article published on July 23 that described how the reporter was booted out of SF General.

“He [Mirkarimi] expressed his anger …he really [thought] this ‘proportional access’ is wrong,” Zhang said.

After the interview, the Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation into the incident and found that their deputy had “acted appropriately,” said Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Susan Fahey.

“We would like a retraction of the story and correction of the details [that] our investigation brought to bear,” she said.

In a July 24 letter to Sing Tao editor Joyce Chen, Chief Deputy Kathy Gorwood said findings from their investigation into the incident contradict Zhang’s version of events.

The reporters were escorted out by security, the letter states, because a patient complained about the reporters and requested security’s assistance. The reporters did not have prior permission to interview patients.

The investigation denied that the deputy sheriff discussed a hierarchy of media access.

According to the letter, “Although the deputy did ask what outlet the reporter represented, it was in the spirit of congeniality. The deputy sheriff further stated that he was not familiar with Sing Tao. No other comments were made as referenced in the article.”

In a letter sent to the Sheriff’s office on Tuesday, Sing Tao Assistant Chief Editor Joyce Chen said the paper stands by Zhang’s reporting.

Chen wrote, “In regard to what occurred on July 9, 2013, especially the conversation between reporter Zheng Zhang and Deputy Sheriff [E.] Simms, Sing Tao Daily stands by our report. Our report truthfully reflected what our reporter was told by the deputy.”

SF General spokesperson Tristan Cook said that the hospital’s priority is to protect patients’ privacy.

“Mr. Zhang and Ms. Yan violated our policies of patient privacy,” he said. “We do value our relationship with Sing Tao, and regret that we have been misrepresented by the story.”

He emphasized that the hospital does not have a hierarchy of media access, saying that ABC had requested prior permission to interview patients.

“We treat all media requests the same,” he said. “We address them as they come to us without preference given to [any particular outlet].”

Dr. Cristina Azocar, chair and advisor in the journalism department at San Francisco State University, said this isn’t the first time that ethnic media have faced obstacles in reporting news stories.

"I have heard of incidents of ethnic media not being allowed because politicians, for example, don't think it is legitimate media and [think] it's wrong and they should be included,” she said. “Politicians and everyone should realize that ethnic media have specific readers and an audience that should be paid attention to."

Sing Tao assigned multiple reporters to cover the Asiana crash, because of the relevance of the story to its readers.

“Of course it was important for us,” said Zhang. “The majority [of the victims were] Chinese and the ones in critical condition were all Chinese, students from China. If we don’t cover this, no one [would] know who died or was still alive.”

Azocar says media outlets often encounter complaints from sources, saying, “You misinterpreted what I said.”

"It's kind of ‘he said, she said,’” Azocar said. “But unless there's a tape recording of the conversation, the reporter's notebook would be the source."

NAM reporter Vivian Po contributed to this report.

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