Freedom of expression: Foreign reporters complain about working conditions in China

Working conditions for foreign journalists in China have continued to deteriorate.

Freedom of expression: Foreign reporters complain about working conditions in China

Working conditions for foreign journalists in China have continued to deteriorate. Since the start of the corona pandemic three years ago, "press freedom has been declining at an accelerating rate across the country," the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCCC) in China found today after an annual survey of its members. All 102 journalists who took part in the survey said the working conditions "do not meet international standards".

Just over a third (38 percent) reported that at least one of their sources had been harassed, arrested, asked for questioning, or had other negative consequences for interacting with foreign journalists. Such incidents have increased: in the previous year it was only a quarter. 78 percent reported that potential interviewees were not allowed to speak to them or needed permission to do so.

Pandemic served further repression

The Correspondents' Club spoke of "another difficult and exhausting year". The controls of the zero-Covid policy, which was only abandoned in December, were used to curtail correspondents' reporting. Just under half reported being asked to leave a location or being denied entry for health or safety reasons -- despite not posing a health risk even by China's own strict standards.

"2022 was by far the most difficult year in terms of conditions for reporting from China," said Wall Street Journal bureau chief Jonathan Cheng. "The working environment for foreign correspondents falls far short of acceptable standards of press freedom," said BBC reporter Stephen McDonell. He complained that "every time we report outside of Beijing, we're being followed by truckloads of officials."

Police hinder journalists

"Covid controls have been lifted, but a plethora of government restrictions, ongoing digital surveillance and continued harassment of Chinese colleagues and sources mean challenges to genuine press freedom remain," the Foreign Press Club noted. More than half of the journalists reported having been obstructed at least once by the police or other authorities when reporting. TV crews were particularly affected.

Almost a third (31 percent) reported incidents where trips or interviews had to be canceled due to official pressure. 14 percent even complained that they had been treated roughly or violently (previous year: 12 percent). Three journalists left the country of their own accord because of threats: "I decided to leave China for various reasons, but the increased risk of arbitrary arrests, lawsuits in court and online harassment were all factors in my decision," a reporter said .

Communication is monitored

The vast majority of journalists assume that their communications are being intercepted via the ubiquitous mobile program WeChat in China, their mobile and landline phones, or even via listening devices in their offices or homes. Almost half of the reporters (45 percent) reported that their Chinese employees had been pressured, harassed or intimidated at least once (previous year: 40 percent).

Visas or accreditations for new correspondents are another issue that hampered China reporting. As a result, more than a third of the offices do not have enough staff. More than half of those who waited for journalist visas in 2022 waited in vain. 60 percent of those who did not get visas cited geopolitical tensions as the reason for the delay. While European, Japanese and Korean media have had a bit better luck, negotiations between the US and China over new visas for reporters have stalled.