The Chinese government has moved from
censoring Chinese mediato attempting to control media organisations outside the communist nation.
A new study by the Center for International Media Assistance has found that, over the last five years, China’s media restrictions
have begun to seriously affect the reportage and operations of international organisations.
As China’s international political and economic power has grown, so has international coverage. The number of foreign correspondents in the country has nearly doubled since 2002. As a result, the Chinese government has moved to use its increased clout to control international opinion and reportage.
“The Communist Party thinks it’s now powerful enough to intimidate [non-Chinese], from business people to diplomats to academics and journalists, and it’s willing to throw its weight around,” veteran China reporter Paul Mooney said. “It has learned that this often works and is willing to do anything to protect its image and stop negative news from being reported.”
The Communist Party of China engages in four main strategies for influencing international media, according to the study:
- Direct action by Chinese diplomats, local officials, security forces, and regulators both inside and outside China. These measures obstruct newsgathering, prevent the publication of undesirable content, and punish overseas media outlets that fail to heed restrictions.
- Economic “carrots” and “sticks” to induce self-censorship among media owners and their outlets headquartered outside mainland China.
- Indirect pressure applied via proxies — including advertisers, satellite firms, and foreign governments — who take action to prevent or punish the publication of content critical of Beijing.
- Incidents such as cyberattacks and physical assaults that are not conclusively traceable to the central Chinese authorities but serve the party’s aims and result from an atmosphere of impunity for those attacking independent media.
The study found that, during the last six years, foriegn journalists have been assaulted while reporting on land protests in Zhejiang and an activist’s trial in Sichaun, among other incidents.
In addition, journalists have expereinced delays in visa processing or had their applications rejected directly based on the content of their reporting. In 2013, 10 per cent of respondents reported difficulty obtaining press accreditation because of their reporting. In 2012, al-Jazeera English’s Melissa Chan and the New York Times’ Chris Buckley were denied visa renewal and forced to leave the country, in what the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China called “the most extreme example of … using journalist visas … to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents in China.”
The other major facet of the Chinese censorship enterprise is the use of economic benefits or repercussions for businesses and publications, based on their coverage.
A few examples from the study:
The iPhone apps for Hong Kong weekly iSun Affairs, New York-based Chinese news organisation NTDTV, and an overseas bookstore with works on Tibet and democracy were removed by Apple from its Chinese app store. The only explanation was that the content was “illegal” in China.
Similarly, in 2004, NTDTV signed an agreement with French satellite provider Eutelstat. At the time, Eutelsat had no contracts with China. In 2005, when Eutelsat began trying to connect with state-affliated Chinese clients, the company suddenly stalled the renewal of NTDTV’s contract.
The study details perhaps the most egregious case of China’s economic manoeuvring with the press:
According to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, in January 2007, the company’s representative in China, a U.S. citizen, was summoned and interrogated by the State Security Bureau about NTDTV staff reporting from its New York offices. He was released the same day but under pressure, “may have pledged to Chinese authorities that NASDAQ would no longer allow,” NTDTV to report from the exchange headquarters.
Starting in February 2007, NTDTV’s correspondent was suddenly barred from the building, after reporting from there on a daily basis for more than a year. The station suspected Chinese pressure behind the unexpected change of heart but did not know what had happened until the leaked cable was discovered in 2012. Soon after NTDTV’s exclusion, NASDAQ received Chinese regulatory approval to open its first representative office in China.
Meicun Weng, the founder of Chinese community and news site Boxun (which regularly reports on Chinese human-rights abuses and is blocked in China), drives home the point about how the Chinese government wields influence with its economic power.
“Any big companies in the United States won’t want to be involved with Boxun; even foundations have offices in Beijing,” Meng said. “China does track down who gives money [to disfavored overseas outlets]. They will get a phone call.”
For just a glimpse at what Chinese government can do to an American company, look back to China’s response to the New York Times’ 2012 reports about the finances of China’s Premier and Vice President.
Shortly after the reports surfaced, the Chinese government blocked the Times’ site in Chinese and English in China. Overnight, the company’s stock dropped 20 per cent and the Times’ was forced to renogiate contracts with advertisers, causing revenue loss.
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