Media Freedom in China Declining at ‘Breakneck Speed’: Report

By Dorothy Li
Dorothy Li
Dorothy Li
Dorothy Li is a reporter for The Epoch Times based in Europe.
January 31, 2022Updated: January 31, 2022

Foreign journalists face “unprecedented hurdles” covering China as the communist regime has stepped up intimidation, harassment, and lawsuits against them, a reporters group said in a new report.

The vast majority, 99 percent, of foreign correspondents surveyed by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said the reporting conditions in China didn’t meet international standards. The group warned the media media freedom in the country is declining at “breakneed speed.”

“The Chinese state continues to find new ways to intimidate foreign correspondents, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press seeks to interview, via online trolling, physical assaults, cyber hacking, and visa denials,” the FCCC wrote in the report released on Jan. 31.

The group said that 127 of its 192 members responded to this year’s survey.

The Chinese regime appears to be “encouraging” lawsuits or the threat of legal action against foreign journalists, often filed by sources long after they had agreed to be interviewed.

“The FCCC highlights this development with alarm, as foreigners involved in civil or criminal lawsuits and court proceedings in China can be banned from leaving the country, based on past precedent,” the report stated.

A BBC reporter was forced to leave Beijing with his family last March following online trolling and threats of legal action issued by the communist regime after his investigative coverage of the regime’s rights abuses Xinjiang, the pandemic, and other issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese Communist Party.

Fan Haze, a Chinese national working at Bloomberg’s Beijing bureau, has been detained since December 2020. She was taken away by plainclothes police from her home in Beijing on suspicion of allegedly endangering national security.

The heightened state-backed intimidation efforts has resulted in a handful of correspondents leaving mainland China and many news outlets developing emergency exit plans. “Covering China is increasingly becoming an exercise in remote reporting,” the report noted.

Epoch Times Photo
Security guards stand inside a fenced area next to the Main Media Center at Olympic Park in Beijing on January 19, 2022. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The findings comes just days before the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, an event that is already under scrutiny due to the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.

As the regime is gearing up for the Games, the Beijing-based group noted that press freedom is deteriorating, as the Chinese Communist Party wants to “ensure political stability” at the event, meaning fewer opportunities for foreign journalists to cover the event.

Ninety percent of foreign correspondents surveyed by the FCCC said they would not enter the Olympic bubble—a quarantine area where athletes and workers for the Games are segregated from the rest of Beijing—to ensure mobility and the ability to report.

According to the FCCC the regime has “frequently” used pandemic control measures as a purported reason to obstruct reporting trips and delay issuing new journalists visas.

The group also spotlighted Beijing’s campaign of “visa harassment,” saying the regime’s delay in issuing new visas and refusal to renew journalists’ press cards has caused critical staffing shortages at media outlets. The visa restrictions imposed by the regime escalated in 2020 after Beijing expelled several foreign journalists from the country and the Trump administration designated a group of Chinese state-run media outlets’ U.S. operations as “foreign missions.”

In November, the Biden administration reached a deal with Beijing to ease visa restrictions on both countries’ journalists. However, as of the end of 2021, China had yet to grant visas to the handful of U.S. journalists promised under the agreement, according to the report.

“Coverage of China is suffering,” the FCCC said.