CNN now sued for $1.3 billion - $1 per person in China

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Chinese primary school teacher and a beautician have filed a suit against CNN in New York over remarks they say insulted the Chinese people and are seeking $1.3 billion in compensation -- $1 per person in China, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.

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The case against the Atlanta-based cable channel, its parent company Turner Broadcasting and Jack Cafferty, the offending commentator, comes after 14 lawyers launched a similar suit in Beijing alleging that Cafferty’s remarks earlier this month violated the dignity and reputation of the Chinese people.

Cafferty said the United States imported Chinese-made “junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food” and added: “They’re basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years”.

CNN said Cafferty was expressing an opinion about the Chinese government, but the Foreign Ministry demanded an apology and accused the network of trying to drive a wedge between the Chinese people and leadership.

The lawsuits come amid a wave of criticism in China against Western news outlets in the wake of recent unrest in Tibet and disruptions to the Beijing Olympic torch relay abroad.

In New York, Liang Shubing, the beautician, and Li Lilan, a Beijing-based elementary school instructor, claimed Cafferty’s words insulted all Chinese people and “intentionally caused mental harm” to the plaintiffs, the Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported on Thursday.

Six lawyers were handling the case for Liang and Li, it said.

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“The $1.3 billion averages out to $1 per Chinese person, so it isn’t much,” the newspaper quoted a lawyer as saying.

Asked if China supported the action against CNN, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu characterized it as “spontaneous activity by Chinese civilians”.

“We will wait and see CNN’s response,” Jiang told a news conference, referring to the Foreign Ministry’s request for a full apology.

“We hope CNN will take this seriously, because what CNN said and did has not only hurt China’s feelings, but also CNN’s own image.”

Reporting by John Ruwitch and Lindsay Beck in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie