Q&A: The Perils of Being a Chinese News Assistant

Local news assistants provide invaluable but often unsung research, translation, and logistical support to foreign journalists in China. As the nine-month detention of Die Zeit news assistant Zhang Miao made clear, the job can place them at risk of close scrutiny or harassment by Chinese authorities. At the Committee to Protect Journalists, Yaqiu Wang presents an anonymous news assistant’s account of interactions with the Ministry of State Security, and their advice on handling the precarious situation that the job entails.

First of all, communication security. I can’t emphasize this more. For sensitive issues, don’t use domestic email and messaging services or those of foreign companies that are willing to give away user information to the Chinese government in exchange for doing business in China.

[…] The have also asked for my email account and password. I gave them one that I no longer used. Sometimes, you have to give them something, so it’s always good to use different email accounts and online social media IDs.

[…] It’s also important to pressure the news organization you work for to be more security-conscious. The organization I’m working for used to not care so much about security. It was not until I was summoned to meet the police that they started to use more secure channels to communicate with me.

[…] I’ve often said, I hope there are articles and books available to provide guidance in terms of what to do if one is interrogated by the Chinese police in situations like mine. It’s also useful to share one’s experience with others, so we can all be more informed and prepared. If we share these sorts of tactics and experience, the next time we are sitting in a windowless room, facing two hard-nosed agents, we are more at ease.

And always remember, you are not alone. [Source]

Previously, Asia Society’s Eric Fish interviewed several news assistants about Zhang’s detentions and their broader views on their work.