The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) has disclosed that China used coronavirus prevention measures, intimidation and visa curbs to limit foreign reporting in 2020, ushering in a “rapid decline in media freedom.”
In an annual report, the FCCC intimated that for the third year in a row, no journalist contacted by the group said that working conditions in the country had improved.
“All arms of state power – including surveillance systems introduced to curb coronavirus – were used to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview.
“As China’s propaganda machine struggled to regain control of the narrative around this public health disaster, foreign press outlets were repeatedly obstructed in their attempts to cover the pandemic.”FCCC
The group said that Chinese authorities cited public health concerns to deny reporters access to sensitive areas and threatened them with enforced quarantine. According to the report, journalists were also used as “pawns” in China’s diplomatic disputes
Additionally, visa restrictions were also used to put pressure on reporting with at least 13 correspondents given press credentials valid for 6 months or less. Foreign reporters based in China typically receive one-year visas and must renew them annually
The report also said journalists reporting from far western Xinjiang, where China has been accused of large-scale human rights abuses, encountered especially intense harassment.
Addressing the claims by the FCCC’S report at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Wang Wenbin posited that the report’s claims were “baseless”.
“We always welcome media and journalists from all countries to cover news in China according to the law … what we oppose is ideological bias against China and fake news in the name of press freedom.”Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Wang Wenbin
The FCCC describes itself as a club that seeks to promote friendship and professional exchange among foreign correspondents stationed in China, to promote professionalism in journalism and to defend the ideals of freedom of the press and the free exchange of information.
China expelled more than a dozen foreign journalists at US media organizations in 2020, amid a series of retaliatory actions between the countries. Washington also slashed the number of journalists permitted to work in the United States at four major Chinese state-owned media outlets.
In September, Australia helped two of its foreign correspondents leave China after they were questioned by the country’s state security ministry.
Last year Chinese authorities detained Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen working for Chinese state media, and later Haze Fan, a Chinese national working for Bloomberg News, both on suspicion of endangering national security. Both remain in detention.
In another development, the United Kingdom (UK) has criticized China for a decision to charge 47 Hong Kong politicians and activists for conspiracy to commit subversion under the National Security Law.
UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab intimated that “The decision to charge 47 Hong Kong politicians and activists for conspiracy to commit subversion under the National Security Law is another deeply disturbing step.
“The National Security Law violates the Joint Declaration, and its use in this way contradicts the promises made by the Chinese government, and can only further undermine confidence that it will keep its word on such sensitive issues.”UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab