NEW YORK—Foreign journalists are operating under intensifying pressure in China during the tenure of President Xi Jinping, impeding transparency and the flow of information essential to the global public interest, PEN America says in a new report released today. Journalists face rising interference not only from the Chinese government but also, in some cases, from Western news organizations concerned about preserving access and business relationships in China.
Darkened Screen: Constraints on Foreign Journalists in China details how the Chinese government is slowly suffocating the foreign press. The report spells out how Chinese authorities are rewriting the bounds of acceptable coverage, aiming to place a widening array of pressing subjects—including high-level corruption and China’s economic woes—off limits. Reporters are blocked from covering high-profile events such as trials and protest actions, sometimes facing personal risk to get the story. Recent crackdowns on Chinese artists, writers, and human rights lawyers have made sources more reluctant to talk to foreign journalists or to comment on sensitive issues.
The Chinese government has an elaborate toolbox to constrict the foreign press: capricious visa delays and denials, punitive shutdowns of Chinese websites, direct threats to corporate business interests, and physical harassment of individual journalists and their families. Darkened Screen details stories of reporters tailed, manhandled, physically prevented from covering stories, and facing down armed government minders. Chinese news assistants and interview sources have faced violence, jail, and torture tactics including hooding and sleep deprivation if they become associated with a critical story.
The report also surfaces little known developments in American media companies’ responses to Chinese pressure. Bloomberg’s decision to curb its China coverage in the wake of Chinese threats to retaliate against critical coverage by targeting the company’s lucrative data terminals has been held out by Chinese officials as model exemplifying the compromises demanded of other media companies. Reuters and others have similarly redrawn their editing and review processes, the parameters of their coverage, and–in some cases–their Chinese-language news output in new ways that relate to such pressures.
“It is hard to think of a news story more important to the Twenty-First Century than China’s global rise,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “The vital window that foreign journalists provide is at risk of being shuttered by an aggressive array of Chinese tactics and competing pressures that have led some Western media outlets to pull back on hard-hitting coverage. The shrinking space for foreign journalism risks leaving both the world and China’s citizenry with major blind spots as they strive to understand and respond to China.”
Darkened Screen is PEN America’s fourth original report on the state of free expression and press freedoms in China since 2013. While there has never been a time when foreign media has operated without restriction in China, this groundbreaking new report documents a raft of tightening restrictions on media since President Xi Jinping launched his high-profile anti-corruption crackdown several years ago. Read more about Freedom of Expression in China.