The restrictions on foreign journalists in China is not decreasing with the economic opening to the world, some estimated they are increasing with the time. Can it leads to self-censor on sensitive issues for the Chinese regime by the foreign journalist themselves?
The Guardian reported that from November last year, the pressure on foreign media increased. “Journalists were harassed and manhandled while lately, they were covering the trials of members of the New Citizens Movement including Xu Zhiyong. Some had their press cards confiscated by the police”.
Austin Ramzy, a journalist for the New York Times who has reported from China for six years was refused a resident journalist visa and was obliged to leave at the end of January.
In November 2013, the Chinese government rejected a visa application by Paul Mooney, a US journalist for Thomson Reuters who spent 18 years reporting from China, and he too was forced to leave.
In 2012, Beijing expelled the al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan, refusing to renew her visa or grant a visa for a replacement.
For many correspondents, the threat of visa denials is just additional to the current frustrations about reporting in China. Your phones are often tapped, your computers hacked, offices are bugged and their Gmail accounts appear often to be under state-sponsored attack.
In one of those cases, journalists from CNN, BBC and other outlets were roughed up by police outside the trial of the rights activist Xu Zhiyong. CNN reporter was detained and his camera was broken.
Charles Hutzler from the Waal Street Journal, reported to the Time: “For photographers and TV people, the physical intimidation is much worse, particularly out in the countryside.
In small towns, if you happen to be covering a story that the local officials just do not want to get out, they will do more than push people around and they will grab cameras and confiscate them and in some cases smash them.”
There are also the sensible area and issues, Peter Ford, the Beijing bureau chief of Christian Science Monitor said to the Time: “reporters have been told that whole swaths of Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, are out of bounds”.
Entire news bureaus are being pursued
The new fact is that the Chinese regime is now taking action against entire institutions — such as the Times and Bloomberg — rather than just targeting individual reporters.
The New York Times and Bloomberg’s website had been blocked after they reported on the wealth of Chinese leaders.
The websites of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Guardian, Le Monde, El País and Sueddeutsche Zeitung – have been inaccessible from China after reporting about the offshore wealth of leaders’ families.
Will the government intimidation lead to self-censorship?
In recent allegations it was told that Bloomberg killed a story to explore ties between one of China’s wealthiest men and top Chinese leaders’ families, in response to government pressure.
Mooney told the Poynters that an European journalist wanted to interview him, but would wait until January to run the story because the journalist feared it could affect his own visa issues. “I think more people may do that sort of thing, delaying their stories at the end of the year”, Mooney said.
What did the foreign journalists reveal?
Hutzler evaluation is that the Chinese regime seems to regard reporting on the leadership and on the private lives of leaders and their families as an attempt by foreign media to interfere in the political balance within China itself.
Mooney ran an article for the Daily Beast dealing with Chinese Human Rights Defenders’ report: “healthy Chinese are forcibly locked up and ‘treated’ in mental institutions”.
Chan has covered for the English edition of Al-Jazeera several reports including, ‘black jails’ – secret detention centers where people are kept without charge, about Liu Xia Nobel laureate’s wife in house arrest and told family grief from the lost of children in their school during the Sichuan earthquake.
Ramzy from the NY Time ran a story on the wealth of the former premier Wen Jiabao’s family in 2012.
Bloomberg’s website had been blocked after it exposed the multi-million dollar assets held by the extended family of Chinese president, Xi Jinping and that Bo’s relatives accumulated at least $136m in assets.
Even worse for Chinese journalists
Chinese journalist situation is much worse. According to Poynters, Chinese reporters are facing new government restrictions, including forced training in Marxism and a new written “ideology” exam. Some, pushing the investigative envelope, have been detained, demoted and fired. Bloggers have been arrested under a new law that forbids rumor-mongering.
A Chinese reporter said “Yes, things are more difficult now, but this is also when society needs us most.”
In November 2013, the Chinese government rejected a visa application by Paul Mooney, a US journalist who has worked in China for years and who had been hired by Thomson Reuters. It gave no reason for its decision.
Austin Ramzy, who has reported from the country for six years, is the third of the paper’s staff not to receive a resident journalist visa since it ran a story on the wealth of the former premier Wen Jiabao’s family in 2012.
In 2012, Beijing expelled the al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan, refusing to renew her visa or grant a visa for a replacement. She is believed to have been the first correspondent expelled since 1998.