Media Reporting Conditions in China Worst in 2018: Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

Jan 31, 2019

Media Reporting Conditions in China Worst in 2018: Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

DHARAMSHALA: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China surveyed its 204 member-journalists over the extent of foreign media freedom in China, the results of which “painted the darkest picture of reporting conditions inside China in recent memory”.

According to the report titled “Under Watch: Reporting in China’s Surveillance State,”, 55 per cent of respondents believed that government interference had worsened over the course of the year – the largest proportion since 2011, and a 10 per cent increase from the year before.

Not a single journalist believed that the conditions improved in the last year.

The survey was conducted last December among 204 correspondents in Beijing, 109 of whom represented media from 31 countries and regions. In addition, bureau chiefs from nine international news-gathering organisations were interviewed extensively for the report.

“On a day-to-day basis, it’s worse now than it has been in the past 20 years, with episodic exceptions like the [2011] Jasmine Revolution,” a bureau chief at a U.S. news organization said. “In the past, there were crackdowns, but you knew the reasons and expected them to end. What we’re dealing with now is a new normal.”

The survey also revealed that reporting on “sensitive regions” like Xinjiang or Tibet were off limits. “Official Chinese regulations allow journalists to travel anywhere within the country except for the Tibet Autonomous Region”. Reporting in Xinjiang is also prohibited or restricted as “sensitive areas”.

Surveillance—human and digital— was also one of the major concerns as 48 per cent of the correspondents reported being followed or their hotel room being entered without permission while they were out reporting.

91 per cent were worried about the security of their phones and 22 per cent said that they were aware of being tracked by the authorities “using public surveillance systems”.

China is today the second largest jailer of journalists worldwide after Turkey. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China at the end of 2018.

China also ranked an abysmally low at 176 among 180 countries in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau said the constant harassment is all the more shocking when China takes as much advantage as possible of the press freedom in other countries in order to spread its propaganda.

Defacto Expulsion, Harassment against Coverage on TAR and Xinjiang

In 2018, correspondents reported numerous incidents of harassment, violence, and interference by authorities. In February 2018, New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers was reporting from Dzongsar Monastery in Kardze incorporated into China’s Sichuan Province, when he and a photographer were escorted to a police station and detained for nearly 17 hours and, eventually, were expelled from the region.

Myers later published an article on the whole episode titled ‘A Dance for Tibetan New Year, Then 17 Hours in Custody’. He said: “China is a country that exudes confidence in its rising place on the world stage — and yet its officials belie that confidence with their hypersensitivity to what a foreign correspondent might encounter travelling untethered, and thus uncensored… Today, the Tibet Autonomous Region of China is off-limits to journalists without special permission.”

In March, Le Monde bureau chief Brice Pedroletti was followed by State Security many times during a reporting trip to Tibetan Ngaba Prefecture. Local government officials followed him, proposing “help” and “assistance”. Even though he clearly told them that he did not want any help, they continued to follow.

In October, Globe and Mail journalist Nathan VanderKlippe was followed and tracked for nearly 1,600 kilometres across Xinjiang in a rental car. At least nine cars and 20 people, nameless and dressed in plain clothes, kept near-constant watch. “They are not following you,” one propaganda official assured him. “They are offering you service.” VanderKlippe was accused of fleeing the scene of an accident and, separately, of breaking highway rules before being informed he had done neither of those things.

FCCC report documented several other incidences of harassment and forced expulsion.

Visa Harassment and Delays

In apparent retaliation against the “negative” news coverage, Chinese authorities either denied renewal of visas or issued severely shortened visas to foreign journalists, the survey showed.

Megha Rajagopalan, former China bureau chief of Buzzfeed, was forced to leave the country last year after her application for a journalism visa was denied without explanation. Rajagopalan had covered Asia extensively since 2012, and her report on surveillance technology in Xinjiang won recognition at the 2018 Human Rights Press Awards.

At least five correspondents—from the New York Times, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sankei Shimbun and Voice of America were issued just two and a half month visa.

“Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were explicit in saying they were not happy with my reporting in Xinjiang and on the leadership,” said ABC correspondent Matthew Carney, who received a visa of 2.5 months.

“It’s harassment,” Bill Ide, bureau chief for VOA, told the press club. “They’re trying to send a message, but it’s unclear really what the message is, because we have asked them repeatedly to tell us specifically what led to the shortened visa and they have not given us any clarity.”

FCCC highlighted concerns that “such measures are being used to punish reporting.