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Independent journalists face pressure and harassment in China: Report

Cover of Foreign Correspondents Club of China report (Photo: FCCC)

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) released its latest 13-page report on working conditions for independent reporters and journalists titled “Masks Off, Barriers Remain” and described that interruptions and difficulties in the media persist despite the restoration of the country’s allowance to move freely in China.

A majority of its members mentioned that working conditions have improved since 2023, although the return of mobility has also meant more correspondents dealing with the type of heavy-handed responses to independent reporting in the field that long predated the pandemic.

According to the survey done for the report, quite significant obstacles persist for independent reporting, like heightened intimidation and surveillance, both in-person and through more sophisticated digital means.

The report also mentioned that at least 54 per cent of respondents were obstructed at least once by police or other officials and 45 per cent encountered obstruction at least once by unknown people.

Additionally, the respondents also mentioned that correspondents are accustomed to receiving such treatment in areas that the Chinese authorities consider “politically sensitive”. Moreover, 85 per cent of journalists who tried to report from Xinjiang in 2023 experienced problems.

However, the definition of “sensitive” areas appears to be expanding, 79 per cent of journalists encountered issues in regions bordering Russia, and 43 per cent in Southeast Asian nations, or ethnically diverse regions like Inner Mongolia.

The report also claimed that the administration has been relentlessly using surveillance technology to keep an eye on independent journalists, as per the toolkit deployed by the Chinese authorities to monitor and interfere in the work of the foreign journalist community. It also quoted respondents claiming that use drones to monitor them in the field.

Furthermore, 81 per cent of respondents claimed that authorities had compromised their WeChat, 72 per cent claimed their mobiles were compromised, and 55 per cent claimed to have suspicions of audio recording bugs placed in their offices or homes.

Additionally, respondents also mentioned that their correspondents face problems regarding securing journalist visas and residence permits for their journalists to live and work in the country.

This problem is especially acute for US media outlets, only one of which succeeded in gaining accreditation in 2023, replacing a journalist who had left China.

Other results of the survey conducted for the report stated that 82 per cent of respondents reported they had interviews declined by sources who stated they were not permitted to speak to foreign media or required prior permission, 37 per cent of respondents said reporting trips or interviews already confirmed were cancelled last minute because of official pressure and 49 per cent of respondents indicated their Chinese colleagues had been pressured, harassed, or intimidated at least once.