April 19. 2024. 7:56

The Daily

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Press freedoms in China ‘declined at accelerated pace’ during pandemic

China’s zero-Covid policy made reporting more difficult than ever in 2022, with authorities citing health restrictions to impede journalists, according to a group representing foreign correspondents in the country. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said in its annual report on media freedom that press freedoms declined at an accelerated pace during the pandemic.

Almost two-thirds of those who responded to a survey of foreign correspondents said they experienced a reporting restriction attributed to coronavirus prevention measures that were not normally applied to Chinese citizens. Almost half said they were ordered to leave a place or denied access for health and safety reasons although they presented no risk by China’s own standards.

“Going into this year, many reporters expressed hope that after a gruelling three years, 2023 would be an improvement from the pandemic period,” the report said.

“Yet a bevy of state restrictions, ongoing digital surveillance, and the continued harassment of Chinese colleagues and sources means existing challenges to true freedom of the press in China remain. Of the respondents to our survey, 100 per cent said China did not meet international standards for press freedoms and reporting last year.”

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Many foreign news bureaus saw their numbers shrink during the pandemic as China was slow to issue visas to journalists to replace departing correspondents. Some European news organisations, including The Irish Times, received visas to bring in new reporters last year but the report said there had only been a slight improvement for American outlets.

“In 2023, the outlook for visas still seems grim. US-China negotiations over new visas for reporters working for American outlets have stalled. In at least one instance, an American reporter with a valid visa and press card had their residence permit revoked and was barred from re-entering China after they left the country for a routine trip. They were eventually forced to relocate elsewhere after months of failed negotiations. Such geopolitical targeting and uncertainties over visas complicate the ability of journalists to report on a complex country that is already a difficult cover,” it said.

The report said there was a slight decrease in the incidence of harassment and restrictions on reporting but that the fall was almost entirely attributable to the almost complete halt to reporting trips during lockdowns.

Only two correspondents visited the Xinjiang region in 2022, compared to 32 the previous year, and no correspondents were given permission to visit Tibet. Elsewhere, foreign correspondents said they and their Chinese colleagues frequently faced harassment during reporting trips, with more than half saying they had been visibly followed.

“To prevent independent reporting, Chinese authorities harass and intimidate those most vulnerable to political coercion: Chinese sources. In extreme cases, sources have been sentenced to prison, police have intercepted interviewees on their way to meet journalists, and they have threatened sources in front of correspondents,” the report said.

“Multiple respondents reported interviewees receiving visits or instructions from police telling them not to speak to foreign media in future.”