China: Foreign journalists face travel restrictions, harassment

In a new report, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) has revealed tough and restrictive working conditions for foreign journalists and media workers operating in China, particularly for those looking to cover sensitive areas. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the hostile environment for foreign correspondents and the press established by the Chinese government and calls for all journalists to be able to work without fear of surveillance and harassment.

Chinese police patrol Beijing's Great Hall of the People on March 5, 2023. Credit: Greg Baker / AFP

On March 1, the FCCC released its annual report, titled Zero Covid Many Controls: Covering China in 2022. The report describes the lived experience of foreign correspondents in China through 2022, using qualitative and survey data to provide a comprehensive look at challenges to press freedom in 2022.

Before its revocation in mid-December, coverage was severely impacted by China’s zero-COVID policy. 63 per cent of respondents experienced obstructions or disruptions to their reporting due to health protocols that did not apply to non-journalist Chinese citizens.

Travel to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other sensitive areas was near impossible. Bureaucratic hurdles, official restrictions and ongoing health protocols resulted in only two respondents travelling to the XUAR in 2022, a 94% decrease from 2021. Of the three respondents who similarly applied to report in the TAR, all were denied. Those who do make it to sensitive areas shared their experience of harassment, censorship and detention from authorities.

Journalists and media workers have struggled to secure visas, with journalists associated with United States-based news outlets often facing extensive delays compared to those working in European or Asian outlets. While foreign journalists are required to attain a J-1 visa, press credentials and yearly residence permits, many bureaus reported significant delays in attaining the necessary documents for select correspondents.

Correspondents continued to experience government surveillance, with a large majority stating that their communications via social media channels such as WeChat were monitored. Surveillance of telephone usage and the use of audio recording ‘bugs’ were also regularly observed. Over 90 per cent of respondents said their reporting had been affected by suspected and confirmed surveillance.

The IFJ said: “Journalists from diverse perspectives and backgrounds are necessary for a healthy, effective, and critical media ecosystem. Heightened barriers, bureaucracy and direct disruptions continue to create a deeply problematic environment for foreign journalists and media workers in China. The IFJ urges the Chinese authorities to respect press freedom and allow all journalists to work without government surveillance and harassment.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

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

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram