Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released a new report titled ‘The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China”. In this report RSF called out China as the world’s biggest captor of journalists. As per the report, the Chinese authorities have currently detained a minimum of 127 journalists for bringing out “sensitive’ issues in front of the public.
Reporters Without Borders is a France- based organization that monitors and reports worldwide press freedom violations. Their main goal is to keep journalists safe by protecting them and if necessary, evacuating journalists from working in a dangerous environment.
In response to the report, China has claimed that the arrests of professional and unprofessional journalists were due to reporting ‘sensitive’ news. The 82- page report by RSF brings light on how Beijing sees journalism as an instrument to control state matter from becoming public and not as a medium to provide information to its public.
The report also details how the Chinese government is pressuring journalists to act as president Xi Jinping’s minions. As per the reports, all the journalists soon will be asked to attend a 90-hour long annual training which will be primarily focused on Xi Jinping`s thoughts to get and renew their press cards.
Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of RSF, proclaimed that if China doesn’t stop “its frantic race backward”, its citizen will lose all their hope to one day see journalists being free to report the news.
The report also highlights that press freedom in China has been restricted with the pandemic. In 2020, at least ten journalists were arrested just because they informed the public about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Wuhan.
One of the noted journalists among the arrested journalists is Zhang Zhan, a 38-year old former lawyer who travelled to Wuhan during the COVID-19 outbreak after reading an online post by a Wuhan resident about life in the city during the virus outbreak in February 2020 to report the chaos. She documented what she saw on the hospitals and even the streets of Wuhan, on her smartphone and wrote essays that soon became viral on social media. Zhang questioned the concerned authorities regarding their hold on the outbreak situation in her smartphone videos. Citizen Journalist Zhang Zhan was jailed in May 2020 and sentenced to four years of prison in December 2021 for her reporting on the Chinese government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the report, to this date, Zhang Zhan is still behind bars.
The report mentioned how a well-known state-owned media channel CGTN (China Global Television Network) is being used to spread state propaganda around the world.
According to the report published by RSF on December 7, 2021, China used some other ways like attacking journalists by using its international diplomatic missions, media shut down, censoring topics like the #MeToo movement, and sensitive topics such as Taiwan, Tibet, corruption, etc; pressurizing local media to study the ideology of Communist Party. It also talks about declining press freedom in Hong Kong which once was an ideal of press freedom but now the authorities are arresting journalists by accusing them of a threat to national security.
In April, John Sudworth, a British journalist left Beijing after getting threats from the Chinese government for his reporting of Uyghurs’ condition under the Chinese government. Following that in February, China revoked BBC’s rights to broadcast within the country.
According to Foreign journalists, foreign journalists are not safe in China. They claim that China is scaring foreign reporters by monitoring their actions through surveillance and visa blackmail which forced 18 of them to fly out of the country in 2020. Three foreign journalists in China – Yang Hengjun, Cheng Lei, and GuiMinhai are currently being charged with espionage charges, according to BBC. Out of 127, seventy-one detailed are Uyghur journalists, which more than half of the journalists arrested in China.
In reference to the partial opening up under Hu Jintao’s government, Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General wrote that President Xi Jinping has put an end to this partial opening since he got in power in 2013. He moved back to China to the Maoist era, when accessing information was a crime and providing information was an even bigger crime.
It is worth mentioning that, RSF has ranked china 177th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom index 2021. Norway made it to the top of the list, Hong Kong stood at the 80th position, and North Korea and Eritrea were the last.