(TibetanReview.net, Jan31’22) – Media freedom in China, which has hardly existed even in the best of times, is now declining further at “breakneck speed”, reported the bbc.com Jan 31, citing the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC). The group has said in its latest report that journalists working in the country face physical assaults, hacking, online trolling and visa denials. While Tibet continues to remain off-limit for foreign journalists unless they are especially sponsored and chaperoned by the state, those visiting Xinjiang have been followed, intimidated, and even physically assaulted.
What is more, local journalists in mainland China and Hong Kong were also being targeted, the report said, citing the Jan 31 report compiled by the FCCC which has been labelled as an “illegal organisation” by China.
The report has found that foreign journalists were being harassed so severely by the communist party state that a handful of correspondents had to leave the country. Others had been forced to work out emergency exit plans as a precaution.
The report has also said Chinese colleagues of foreign reporters had also faced intimidation with authorities harassing their families as well.
Sources have been harassed and intimidated, with many cancelling at the last minute due to pressure from authorities. “One of my sources was detained and sentenced to prison after forwarding me a screenshot. It was a deeply traumatising ordeal, and I have no idea when he will get out,” one journalist has said.
Reporters such as Australian Cheng Lei and Chinese national Haze Fan had been detained for over a year on allegations of being involved in state security cases.
An editor quoted by the report has said, “Continued zero-Covid policies, staffing issues, rising geopolitical tensions, growing mistrust, and at times outright hostility towards Western media in China create a perfect storm.”
The FCCC report has cited 88% of respondents who visited Xinjiang as saying they were followed. One reporter has said his team was accosted by men in plainclothes who physically assaulted them. “The videographer and I both got hit in the face, my lip was bleeding and they confiscated some of our equipment,” they have added.
Under the rule of Xi Jinping, China has grown increasingly authoritarian, with worsening crackdowns on press freedom and harassment of foreign media and their staff, theguardian.com Jan 31 cited the report as saying.
The report noted that almost a quarter of respondents had said they were targeted for their reporting in online smear campaigns, with trolling disproportionately targeting female journalists of east Asian descent, and the Chinese employees of foreign outlets, including sexual innuendo and “alarming threats of physical violence”.
What is more, the attacks were sometimes directly encouraged or instigated by the state or state-backed entities, the FCCC report has said, while government officials and ambassadors regularly wrote public diatribes against western reporters.
Responding to similar previous reports by the FCCC, China had accused the group of having no sense of right and wrong and lacking in principles.
“Foreign journalists in China should feel lucky,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying last year.