Abuse of Foreign Journalists in China: Responses

Three China-based foreign journalists’ groups issued a joint statement this week expressing alarm at recent cases of harassment, in some of which official security forces were involved. At Global Times, Liu Linlin maintained that local authorities did need to improve their handling of the media, but these incidents neither represented an orchestrated campaign nor specifically targeted foreign journalists:

Foreign had greater access to information in China after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but it is still hard for them to get solid and useful information from some institutions that believe foreign pursue their own political agendas.

Zhang Zhi’an, an associate professor with the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-Sen University, told the Global Times that the cases are different in nature but not specially targeting foreign reporters.

“When reporting on sensitive issues in China, it is hard for both foreign and domestic journalists to get information, because under pressure to protect local officials’ interests, local governments may not act in line with the central government,” Zhang said.

[…] Professor Zhang said local governments should learn to work better with foreign journalists since coverage of China by foreign press will inevitably grow in the foreseeable future.

A Wall Street Journal editorial responded on Thursday, suggesting that “beating up foreign reporters should have consequences for Beijing”:

The Chinese government has not responded to the journalists’ protest letter. But the state-run Global Times did publish a report on Wednesday refuting the idea that foreign reporters are being targeted. A Shanghai photojournalist noted that “Chinese journalists often face a worse situation than their foreign counterparts.”

That is certainly true, and the rising number of attacks on local journalists deserves more attention. But foreign governments can more easily take action to improve treatment of their nationals working as reporters in China. Visas and accreditation for Chinese state-run media workers to enter other countries should be contingent on an end to state-sponsored thuggery.

Similar proposals have arisen before in the U.S., notably in the form of the probably doomed Chinese Media Reciprocity Act of 2011. Accusations of espionage by a former contributor to Xinhua’s Ottawa bureau may further encourage proponents. But Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, argued in June that the bill’s retaliatory measures were misguided:

CPJ’s many objections to China’s media policies, including its approach to foreign media, are well documented. But we don’t believe that the best response to restrictions in China is to implement restrictions in the U.S. We don’t approve of the use of specific visas for journalists in the first place, although we recognize that it is a widespread practice. In an ideal world, we would see as many journalists as possible in all countries, moving as freely as possible across borders.

[… T]he U.S., or any country, should not threaten to drive possibly hundreds of journalists from within its borders for any reason. Such a move might feed some people’s sense of justice, but would be short-sighted, counterproductive, and contradict one of the United States’ cornerstone liberties. […]