Senators Introduce Bill to Limit Chinese State Media Journalists’ Presence in US

October 7, 2020 Updated: October 7, 2020

Senators Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have introduced a new bill aimed at holding Beijing accountable for its treatment of American journalists who work in China.

The measure, called the Chinese-Backed Media Accountability Act (S.4797), would stop journalists working for nine Chinese state media outlets named by the U.S. State Department as “foreign missions,” from obtaining a new visa or renewing their visa.

The suspension would only be lifted after the Secretary of State submits a report to Congress informing lawmakers how many Chinese state-backed journalists are currently in the United States.

The State Department first designated five Chinese state media outlets as foreign missions in February, before adding four more outlets in June, identifying them as propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The nine outlets, including CCTV, CGTN, and People’s Daily, are required to register their employees and U.S. properties with the State Department.

“For years, the Communist government in China has tried to push its propaganda in America through state-owned media outlets, while refusing to treat American journalists in China fairly,” stated Scott in an Oct. 6 statement from his office.

He added: “We have to stand up and say that this behavior by Communist China is unacceptable.”

Additionally, the bill stipulates that Chinese journalists working in the United States be limited to 90-day work visas, with the option of renewal.

In May, the Department of Homeland Security had issued such a regulation limiting Chinese journalists’ visas, explaining that the rule change was adopted in response to Beijing’s “suppression of independent journalism” in China, the department said.

If enacted, the bill would also mandate the number of U.S. visas issued to Chinese journalists not to exceed the number of American journalists working in China. U.S. journalists also need to apply for visas with the Chinese regime in order to work in China.

Following the State Department’s decision to designate five Chinese media outlets as “foreign missions,” China retaliated in March by announcing measures including requiring that all U.S. citizens working as journalists at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post to hand in their press credentials that were set to expire at the end of 2020 within 10 days—-effectively forcing them to leave China.

According to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, at least 13 U.S. journalists would be affected by China’s retaliatory measures.

China escalated its retaliatory actions in early September, when it imposed new restrictions against more U.S. journalists, by delaying the renewal of their expiring press credentials.

Finally, the bill would require the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to submit a report to Congress “on the ongoing monitoring Chinese state-run journalists.”

“This legislation will give us the ability to keep a close eye on Chinese state-backed journalists in the U.S., ensuring that they are not operating here under false pretenses,” said Blackburn in a statement.

In recent months, journalists from other Western countries have also been targeted by Beijing. Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born, naturalized Australian citizen, was arrested in China in August and then placed under “residential surveillance” at an unknown location. Chen works as a news anchor for China’s state-run CGTN.

In early September, China correspondents for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Australian Financial Review returned to Australia under consular protection, after Chinese officials knocked on the doors of their Chinese residences and told them to submit to interrogations regarding Cheng.

“China’s move to bar two Australian journalists from leaving the country, coupled with a further crackdown on press cards granted to foreign reporters, marks a new low for the steadily intensifying mistreatment of foreign correspondents,” stated Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at U.S.-based nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists, in a Sept. 8 statement.

Butler added: “[Chinese] [a]uthorities needs to step back and let journalists do their jobs and put a halt to measures that are decimating international coverage of China.”

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer