A newspaper blaming the Communist party for Coronavirus, has been delivered to households across the North of England by the Royal Mail.
The Epoch Times describes itself as “a factual and honest newspaper” but its articles state that the Coronavirus was covered up by the Chinese Communist Party and that the disease’s more accurate name should be the “CCP virus.”
The newspaper now has an office in London and prior to sending out this “special edition” had been targeting councillors in Yorkshire and Lancashire with emails about what it claims is “the hidden truth” behind the pandemic.
The Epoch Times was established in 2000, in America, by a group linked to the Falun Gong movement in China. Recently the publisher has denied that it has direct ties with Falun Gong and claims that it is primarily funded through advertising and subscription.
Earlier this year, the New York Times called it “one of the most mysterious fixtures of the pro-Trump media universe.”
It originally invested more than $1m promoting itself via Facebook, but was barred because it evaded transparency rules. In 2019, the social media network took down more than 600 accounts which it said were linked to the Epoch Media Group, because they used artificial intelligence to “create fake people and push conspiracies.”
The Epoch Times has since told Prolific North that these accounts were actually linked to The BL, although in its investigation Facebook said it believe The BL (The Beauty of Life) was an offshoot of the publisher:
“Our investigation linked this activity to Epoch Media Group, a US-based media organization, and individuals in Vietnam working on its behalf. The BL is now banned from Facebook.”
The Epoch Media Group however has always denied any connection to The BL and its Founder, Stephen Gregory released a statement at the time:
“The BL was founded by a former employee, and employs some of our former employees. However, that some of our former employees work for BL is not evidence of any connection between the two organizations,”
It then turned to YouTube, where its advertising alleged that Barack Obama had placed a spy within the Trump 2016 campaign and also praised Trump’s comments about “buying Greenland.” It also released a video claiming that the Coronavirus was created in a lab, this has been watched almost 70m times. There is currently no evidence that any research institute in Wuhan was the source of Covid-19 and scientific analysis shows the virus came from animals and was not man-made.
The Royal Mail released the following statement to Prolific North:
“Royal Mail is strictly neutral on political issues. The company and our employees do not endorse the views contained in any material that we deliver.”
Responding to Prolific North’s original article, a spokesperson for The Epoch Times requested that we remove “US conspiracy newspaper” from the headline:
“First of all, it is very irresponsible to call us a ‘conspiracy theory newspaper’ in the headline. You provide no evidence to back up your big claim. How do you define ‘conspiracy theory newspaper’? You can disagree with us. The beauty of freedom of press is to respect the right of others you don’t agree with.
“Sampling newspapers to new readers to get print subscriptions is a normal practice in the newspaper business. We have had no problem delivering in the U.S. and Canada. We expect that the U.K. is as open and free a country as North America.”
A statement from Canada Post, which delivered the newspaper in Canada said:
“We understand the reaction to this publication. However, as Canada’s postal system, we are legally required to deliver it. The content is the sole responsibility of the publisher.
“Anyone concerned with its contents should contact the publisher, file a complaint against the publication through the appropriate institutions or place the item in the recycling box.”
There has been a strong response across the UK, including Scotland, where Scottish Greens MSP, Ross Greer said:
“No-one should be fooled by this glossy magazine, it is nothing more than dangerous propaganda from a fringe extremist group.”
Mick Whitley, the MP for Birkenhead added:
“I had a look at it and I think a better name would be the ‘Crackpot Times.’ It is full of wild accusations that the coronavirus was deliberately spread by the Chinese government. Not a shred of evidence is provided for this ridiculous conspiracy theory. The truth is that it is a pro-Donald Trump, pro-far-right publication.”
It comes following calls from Damian Collins, the former chair of the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to make it a criminal offence to knowingly share Covid-19 disinformation.
Speaking to BBC’s Emma Barnett Show he said:
“I think it should be an offence to do that [circulate harmful public health information] at scale and maliciously and knowingly. And for the social media companies themselves if that activity is reported to them and they fail to act against that content then I think that should be an offence for them to fail to act as well.”
Earlier this month, a peer-reviewed study, published in the journal, Psychological Medicine said that conspiracy theories about Covid-19 “may present a health risk” as people are more likely to break lockdown rules.
“There was a strong positive relationship between use of social media platforms as sources of knowledge about Covid-19 and holding one or more conspiracy beliefs. YouTube had the strongest association with conspiracy beliefs, followed by Facebook,” said the study.
As part of the research, people were asked if they believed a number of conspiracy theories such as: that it was made in a laboratory; that death and infection figures were being manipulated by the authorities; and that symptoms were linked to 5G radiation; or that there was no hard evidence that the virus even exists.
None of these theories have any basis in fact.
Those who believed in the conspiracies were more likely to get their news from social media, with 56% believing the virus didn’t exist got information from primarily Facebook.
60% who thought their was a link between 5G and Covid-19 get most of their information via YouTube.
Both YouTube and Facebook responded by saying they were removing “harmful misinformation.”