Rapid decline in press freedom, say foreign journalists in China

BEIJING • China used coronavirus prevention measures, intimidation and visa curbs to limit foreign reporting last year, ushering in a "rapid decline in media freedom", the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said yesterday.

For the third year in a row, there were no journalists who told the group that working conditions had improved, the FCCC said in an annual report based on 150 responses to a survey of correspondents and interviews with bureau chiefs.

"All arms of state power - including surveillance systems introduced to curb coronavirus - were used to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those who the foreign press sought to interview," it said.

The authorities cited public health concerns to deny reporters access to sensitive areas and threatened them with enforced quarantine, it added. Visa restrictions were also used to put pressure on reporting.

At least 13 correspondents were given press credentials valid for six months or less, the FCCC said. Foreign reporters based in China typically receive one-year visas and must renew them annually.

Some Reuters journalists are FCCC members.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday that the report's claims were "baseless".

"We always welcome media and journalists from all countries... What we oppose is ideological bias against China and fake news in the name of press freedom," he said at a daily news briefing.

China expelled more than a dozen foreign journalists at US media organisations last year, amid a series of tit-for-tat actions between the two countries.

Washington also slashed the number of journalists permitted to work in the United States at four major Chinese state-owned media outlets.

In September, Australia helped two of its foreign correspondents leave China after they were questioned by the country's State Security Ministry.

Last year, the Chinese authorities detained Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen working for Chinese state media, and later Haze Fan, a Chinese national working for Bloomberg News, both on suspicion of endangering national security. Both remain in detention.

Separately, Chinese President Xi Jinping will not make a state visit to Japan this year as both countries continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the Sankei newspaper reported yesterday.

The continued delay of the visit that was supposed to take place last year also comes amid simmering tension between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both countries, and Beijing's crackdown in Hong Kong, the paper said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2021, with the headline 'Rapid decline in press freedom, say foreign journalists in China'. Subscribe