The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) initiated a program in early 2008 to monitor and report on press freedom and violations of media rights in China in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing in August 2008. The IFJ’s first annual report on press freedom in China, China’s Olympic Challenge, assessed the media environment through 2008 and, even as it noted many instances of infringements of journalists’ rights and media freedom, there was some optimism at year’s end that China was moving, if slowly, toward a freer, safer and more secure working environment for local and foreign journalists.
In 2013, Chinese authorities continued to tighten their grip on information and media outlets faced up to dozen restrictive orders a day. The Communist Party set up a state security committee to strengthen “guidance” of public opinion. Police and the judiciary cooperated with the Central Propaganda Department to suppress online speech. Police initially accused web users of “disturbing public security”, but switched to a variety of other charges after legal practitioners accused them of abuse of power. The Supreme Court ruled that a person could be punished if their message was posted or forwarded a certain number of times. The spontaneous communication tool WeChat became a target for official monitoring. A number of journalists who commonly used WeChat were warned by senior managers to stop using it or resign. State-owned China Central Television broadcast the confessions of several bloggers and journalists, clearly violating media ethics and the principles of free speech and the right to a fair trial.
The IFJ said the working environment for foreign correspondents in China also failed to improve in 2013. Journalists received death threats when reporting in Xinjiang and Hebei, and at least two media outlets were “inspected” after they published reports critical of the authorities. The most troubling case was that of a French journalist who was harassed by Chinese diplomats in France and Thailand after his documentary about Tibet was aired.
The information in this report has been provided by a growing network of contributors to the IFJ monitoring project, from Mainland China and beyond. Many of these contributors must remain anonymous. But without them, this report could not have been produced.
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Background on Press Freedom in China
In 2011, the situation was frustrating. Many journalists were sacked or forced to leave their original workplaces as the scent of the “Jasmine Revolution” spread from the Middle East to China in February that year.
Unfortunately, the frustrating situation continued into 2012, after a number of so-called sensitive cases arose. Media workers were liable to receive more than a dozen restrictive orders a day. Journalists were ordered to leave reporting areas because the authorities thought the news could create instability in society. Many websites were forced to shut down.
The authorities began to appreciate the importance of procedure in presenting an “open” image to the world. However all such moves were fake.
Overseas correspondents in China experienced the greatest challenges in 2012. On one hand, a foreign correspondent was asked to leave China and the correspondent’s office was suspended. On the other, the authorities used the content of reports to determine which correspondents’ working visas would be continued. At the same time, the Chinese authorities immediately shut down two international media outlets after they revealed some negative reports about the leaders of China.
Hong Kong media faced unprecedented pressure in 2012. Media outlets were attacked by thugs and journalists were detained by police after posing questions to the President of China. In addition, a journalist was hit with criminal charges when he exercised his duties.
The most disturbing development was that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and his cabinet adopted an evasive approach to the media. They failed to exercise transparency, a traditional good governance practice. The media also received tremendous political pressure from the China Liaison Office, the agent of the Central Government of China in Hong Kong.
The Macau media also faced tremendous challenges with the escalation of self-censorship in the industry, which aroused significant protests. However the IFJ welcomed the government of Macau’s decision to withdraw a proposal to set up a government-backed press council after a large survey was conducted in media industry and the public in 2011-12. At end of 2012, China’s media environment remained in an “Ice Age”. The IFJ urged the media to remain vigilant.
The IFJ welcomes all contributions from the press freedom community to the China campaign.
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