The graphic video of kidnapped American journalist James Foley being beheaded by Islamic State militants has been consciously censored by pretty much every respected Western media outlet since it surfaced Tuesday, to avoid giving the Sunni jihadist group the media exposure it wants. And Chinese official media seemed to follow suit. But a cinema-sized screen in a busy area of downtown Beijing played the graphic video along with protest footage from Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the police killing of unarmed black teen Mike Brown.
The two video clips aired on a loop on a giant screen above one of Beijing’s main roads, Dongzhimenwai, home to one of the city’s main public transportation hubs, as well as shopping centers, schools and foreign embassies. The video was noticed first by That’s Online, an English-language city magazine, on Thursday evening. The screen is located on the side of the Guosheng Shopping Center, a luxury mall, but it is unclear who owns the screen or what entity controls the content on it.
China’s broadcasting standards for graphic videos or images are comparatively more relaxed than in the West. Typically, Chinese media outlets will blur out faces of victims but will often still show bloody or violent scenes.
As for the airing of the Ferguson scenes, the footage shown on the big screen, flashing images of heavily armed police officers and tear gas-filled streets, fits the narrative of China’s overall criticism of the escalation of events in the St. Louis suburb. Earlier this week, China’s state-run news outlet Xinhua News Agency published a commentary on America’s ongoing “human rights flaw” and pointed to the country’s deep-seated racial issues. The commentary highlighted police brutality and said that discrimination against African-Americans and other ethnic minorities “still persists in every aspect of U.S. social lives.”