China: Correspondents in China face intimidation amid declining press freedom

A report issued by a Beijing-based foreign journalist group flagged declining press freedom in China, as correspondents continue to face intimidation, harassment and threats of legal action. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on Chinese authorities to respect freedom of the press and ensure the greatest access by the media to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

A member of staff wearing a hazmat suit greets media on a bus as they arrive in the Zhangjiakou Zone ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, on January 31, 2022. Credit: Ben Stansall / AFP

Nearly all foreign journalists polled said that reporting conditions did not meet what they considered to be international standards, according to a survey conducted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) issued on January 31, 2022.

“The Chinese state continues to find new ways to intimidate foreign correspondents, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press seeks to interview, via online trolling, physical assaults, cyber hacking, and visa denials,” the group said.

Foreign media organisations operating in China are facing ‘critical labour shortages’ due to visa restrictions imposed by the Chinese government on journalists seeking to enter China. Some 46 percent of the 127 polled said their bureau were understaffed because they had not been able to bring in the required number of journalists.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has failed to grant new credentials to numerous journalists “citing the pandemic and geopolitical tensions,” the report said, adding that those who worked with outlets headquartered in the U.S. were “additionally impacted as a result of retaliatory restrictions placed by Beijing against those outlets.”

Although China and the U.S. government in November 2021 agreed to ease some visa restrictions on both countries’ journalists, the group noted that “as of the end of 2021, China had yet to grant visas to the handful of U.S. journalists promised under the agreement.”

The report also said “the most worrying developments” were the use of lawsuits and other means of legal and online intimidation to target journalists who have reported about China.

Nine correspondents reported that they had been sued or threatened with legal action by sources and/or government entities and become mired in legal proceedings, according to the report.

Particularly, Chinese sources and entities appear more inclined to use the threat of legal retaliation to mandate positive stories about China, the report said, adding that sources who were once eager to be interviewed had retracted agreements to be quoted.

In addition, nearly a quarter of respondents in the survey conducted in December 2021 said they were targeted in online smear campaigns as a result of their reporting in China.

As Beijing is set to hold the Winter Olympic Games from February 4-20, the authorities have stepped up measures to prevent foreign correspondents from reporting in China, often citing COVID-19 controls.

“Media freedom deteriorates in the periods around China’s major events – a time when the authorities want to ensure political stability,” the report said.

Some 60 percent of respondents said they did not receive adequate information prior to Olympic-related events, while 32 percent reported being excluded from events open to other media.

The FCCC said:“The FCCC strongly believes that an independent media presence in China will bolster the country’s standing globally. China can boost its confidence in its story not by flooding the world with highly orchestrated propaganda, but by also letting others tell that story.”

The IFJ said: “The IFJ echoes the FCCC to express serious concern over deteriorating media freedom in China, and calls on the authorities to ensure the greatest access by the media to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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