BEIJING: Sports network ESPN faced fresh criticism of its coverage of a row between the NBA and China after using a map that appeared to endorse the country’s claims to both Taiwan and disputed territories in the South China Sea.
A now-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey last week supporting anti-government protests in Hong Kong has sparked a massive backlash in China, with a fan event cancelled and Chinese partners cutting ties with the NBA.
An ESPN broadcast on Wednesday morning in the United States showed a map of China that included both Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing regards as a renegade province, and the so-called “nine-dash line,” a feature used on official Chinese maps to illustrate disputed claims to vast expanses of the strategically important South China Sea.
The use of the map, which had a 10-dash version of the line, was visible in a video uploaded to YouTube by an ESPN journalist.
An ESPN broadcast earlier in the week had used a map of China that did not include those features.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control. All maps published in China must show Taiwan as one of the country’s provinces.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have territorial claims in the South China Sea, making it one of the biggest potential flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific region.
ESPN, which has a multibillion-dollar content rights deal with NBA, had already faced strong criticism online this week after a report that its anchors had been forbidden from talking about the political side of the row.
Sports news website Deadspin published a story on Tuesday that said that an internal memo from Chuck Salituro, ESPN’s senior news director, had forbidden anchors from discussing the political situation in Hong Kong, telling them to focus on the sports angle instead.
An ESPN source with knowledge of the matter said that emails to employees from Salituro had reiterated ESPN’s stance that politics should only be discussed as it related to sports.
This stance has been in place for a year and a half, the source said.
ESPN did not respond to a request for comment on the use of the map.
Walt Disney Co, which owns 80% of ESPN, did not respond to requests for comment on the use of the map or the Deadspin report.