January 31, 2022 – The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s (FCCC) latest working conditions report finds the foreign press corps is facing unprecedented hurdles covering China as a result of the government’s efforts to block and discredit independent reporting.
As the number of journalists forced out by the Chinese state grows, covering China is increasingly becoming an exercise in remote reporting. With China pulling out all the stops for the Olympic Games, the FCCC is troubled by the breakneck speed by which media freedom is declining in China.
Ninety-nine percent of foreign journalists responding to an annual survey conducted by the FCCC said that reporting conditions did not meet what they considered to be international standards.
While China’s strict pandemic measures have allowed authorities to curb the number of infections, Covid-19 has been used frequently by authorities seeking to delay approvals for new journalist visas, shut down reporting trips, and decline interview requests.
· 46% of respondents said their bureaus were understaffed because they had not been able to bring in the required number of journalists
· 52% of respondents said they were told to leave a place or denied access for health and safety reasons when they presented no risk, according to China’s own regulations
As a result, coverage of China is suffering. Nothing replaces on-the-ground reporting, free of state obstruction and surveillance.
· 62% of respondents said they were obstructed at least once by police or other officials
· 88% of the journalists who traveled to Xinjiang in 2021 said that they were visibly followed
· More than a quarter of respondents said their sources were harassed, detained, or called in for questioning by police more than once
Chinese authorities also appear to be encouraging a spate of lawsuits or the threat of legal action against foreign journalists, typically filed by sources long after they have explicitly agreed to be interviewed.
Meanwhile, state-backed attacks against foreign journalists, particularly trolling campaigns online, have made it increasingly hard for journalists remaining in China to operate. Such campaigns have fostered a growing feeling among the Chinese public that foreign media are the enemy and directly encourage offline violence and harassment of journalists in the field.
Foreign journalists and their families are being harassed so severely by the state that a handful of correspondents, demoralized and under attack, have simply left mainland China.
China’s approach to foreign journalists is in direct contrast to its own stated policies for foreign media and the Olympic spirit of excellence, friendship, and respect.
The FCCC strongly believes that an independent media presence in China will bolster the country’s standing globally. China can boost confidence in its story not by flooding the world with highly orchestrated state propaganda, but by also letting others tell that story.