China's Press Tactics Are 'Unprecedented' and 'Terrifying'

Reporters Without Borders report details journalist arrests, surveillance
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2021 3:07 PM CST
China's Press Tactics Are 'Unprecedented' and 'Terrifying'
Journalists reach for copies of a Chinese government-produced report titled "Democracy that Works" before a press conference at the State Council Information Office in Beijing on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

(Newser) – China is committing an "unprecedented campaign of repression" against journalists, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders. The report finds at least 127 journalists are detained in the country—including 71 Uighurs—making China "the world's biggest captor of journalists." The journalism advocacy group describes other repressive methods including the increasing use of detention without trial, media blockades, online censorship, surveillance, and intimidation. It also notes Chinese journalists must download a propaganda smartphone app, which cybersecurity experts say could be used for eavesdropping and collecting personal data, per the Guardian. All this is enough to put China at 177th place out of 180 countries on RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index. North Korea sits only two spots lower at 179th, the BBC reports.

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"Freely accessing information has become a crime and to provide information an even greater crime" in China, the report reads, per the Guardian. "Those who refuse to comply with the official narrative are accused of harming national unity." The family of citizen journalist Zhang Zhan say she is near death in a Shanghai prison after she was convicted of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble"—a charge often levelled against dissenters—for reporting on the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan. Haze Fan of Bloomberg News hasn't been heard from since late 2020, when she was detained in Beijing on suspicion of national security law violations, and "we are all very worried about her well-being," says Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait. There are many more examples, including that of Cheng Lei in Beijing .

Journalists have also been subject to national security arrests in Hong Kong, which was "once a champion of press freedom," writes RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire. He notes there were improvements in press freedom up to 2013. Then President Xi Jinping came to power, restoring "a media culture worthy of the Maoist era." "This 'great leap backwards' of journalism in China is all the more terrifying given that the regime has immense financial and technological resources to achieve its goals," Deloire adds. The report calls on global democracies to "identify all appropriate strategies to dissuade the Beijing regime from pursuing its repressive policies" and to support Chinese citizens who "want to defend the right to information." (A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics might be a good start.)

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