Reporting in China (with Video)

For the Al Jazeera blog, Melissa Chan points out that, in a recent survey by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China on working conditions, 94% of journalists who responded felt the work environment had deteriorated over the last year, 70% had experienced harassment or violence of some kind, and 99% said reporting conditions in China do not meet international standards. For those of us who are not foreign journalists in China, Chan provides a detailed description of what a typical reporting trip is like:

A good strategy is to check in to a hotel hours away from our final destination, so police officers don’t necessarily make a connection between our arrival and that area’s news story. That also gives us the opportunity to set out before dawn and hopefully get to our interview by mid-morning before most people would spot a TV crew in the neighborhood.

Depending on whether the family or person we’re visiting has nosy neighbors, our team can get quickly reported to local officials who then dispatch a team to investigate. You might wonder why anyone would do such a thing to someone they know. I don’t understand it myself, though I suspect it’s a combination of just how the state has always operated, what people have been taught to do, a historical distrust of foreigners, and finally — I do wonder about the legacy of the Cultural Revolution and the habit of tattling as a show of loyalty to the Communist Party and to the community.

In any case, we’ve nicknamed such men who show up “the Black Audis,” after the vehicles they drive. I don’t know why government officials here love Audis so much, but they do. Audis are almost synonymous with them. I hate looking up to see one of these vehicles appearing around the corner — it usually means our filming will be delayed — if not permanently over. And our opportunity to provide a report to viewers — gone.

Sometimes men show up but don’t do anything to stop us. It is against the law in China to obstruct foreign journalists from reporting freely. This was set out in a directive signed by Premier Wen Jiabao. Government officials therefore have come up with creative ways to make reporting difficult and circumvent the central government’s rules without technically breaking the law. They might hire local boys to intimidate our team. By sub-contracting out intimidation to non-uniformed groups, there’s no proof the government is behind any reporting interference.

ABC (Australia) reporter Stephen McDonell filmed his encounter when he and his film crew confronted men who had been following him on reporting trips (via Shanghaiist):