This week, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued the results of its annual survey, which indicated that "from an already very low baseline, reporting conditions are getting worse." In response, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters at a press briefing that the "so-called report" from "this so-called organization" was "very unreasonable." She went on to challenge those present to raise their hands in support of the report. When none did, she concluded that "it has in no way reflected the genuine opinion of almost 600 foreign journalists stationed in China."
Hong Kong Free Press’ Catherine Lai surveyed some reactions to Hua’s response:
Her response generated a flurry of reactions from foreign journalists on Twitter, as well as a triumphant article from state tabloid The Global Times celebrating her reaction. Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily also wrote an article on her statement, saying Hua “showed her wit again” while responding to the “false report.”
— ????? ????????? ????????? (@jgriffiths) February 1, 2018
The Guardian’s Beijing Bureau Chief Tom Phillips responded by saying: “This is how Chinese gov responds to report accusing it of trying to browbeat foreign correspondents….!”
China Correspondent for Agence France-Presse Rebecca Davis said it was a “doozy of a MOFA response” and “low-grade brainwashing.” [Source]
+ some low-grade brainwashing: “I would like to ask all of you here, how do you find the working environment in China? You’re not saying anything, so I think you agree with my POV. You do not agree with the FCCC’s position.” #PressFreedomwithChineseCharacteristics
— Rebecca Davis (@rebeccaludavis) January 30, 2018
Others offered explanations for the lack of response:
Why didn't anybody raise their hand?
"If any of you believes that the FCCC has spoken your mind, or you find yourself approving the contents of this report, you may raise your hand and let me know. (No hand raised)"
— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) January 31, 2018
I wasn't there but I'm guessing they were flabbergasted by the clearly disingenuous question (also there was probably a delay for intepretation)
— Megha Rajagopalan (@meghara) January 31, 2018
Yes, a translation delay, which might in any case have made it look like hands were going up for more questions. And then you can argue that in this context this amounted to intimidation, not obviously a real invitation.
— China Media Project (@cnmediaproject) January 31, 2018
One issue is not many active FCCC members attend Mofa. Would be good to rally and attend next time a report lands because this isn't the first time Hua has pulled this line
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) January 31, 2018
Doesn't the response in fact quite eloquently prove the @fccchina report's central point?
— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) January 31, 2018
Hanna Sahlberg, Beijing correspondent for Sweden’s Sveriges Radio, cited Hua’s response itself as an example of the chilling climate:
— Hanna Sahlberg (@hsahlberg) January 31, 2018
The club was never recognised but there were informal channels of communication.
— jonathanwatts (@jonathanwatts) January 31, 2018
At Thursday’s briefing, as Lai noted at HKFP, a reporter from Japan’s Sankei Shimbun offered a belated response to Hua’s challenge alongside questions about internet censorship and criticism of maps found in MUJI catalogues:
[… L]et me say a few words about your statement on the report of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in China (FCCC) on January 30. On that day, you asked for a show of hands if any reporter in the room agreed with the contents of the report. The thing is that no reporter from Sankei Shimbun participated in the press conference on that day. Now, I am here and I want to say that I agree with that report. Because we have personally experienced some of the situations mentioned in it, and we also expressed our hope that the Chinese side should make some improvements. This is our position on this issue.
[…] I wonder how many of the nearly 600 foreign journalists in China joined the FCCC. [The answer is You said you agreed with the report, then I assume you are one of its members. I’d like to ask you a few questions. Why other media haven’t met the problem you mentioned? Why does Sankei Shimbun feel that way? Don’t you think it is how you behave sometimes that needs to be reflected upon? I believe, when the majority of foreign journalists and press can carry out their work and coverage smoothly in China, but you Sankei Shimbun alone has met problems, then you yourself need to do some self-reflection and self-examination.
All the foreign journalists are our friends. We hope that what you write and what you capture on your cameras will present a China that is real, multi-dimensional, and comprehensive. We hope that you, as bridges between China and the world, could help enhance two-way communication and increase mutual understanding and cooperation. We welcome and support all your positive efforts to that end. [Source]
Further to his tweet above, David Bandurski wrote at China Media Project on Thursday that "Hua’s ploy was irregular and improper […] a dismissal of the seriousness of the issues addressed in the FCCC report, and even as an act of further intimidation." For context, he added a translation of a recent article from Party journal Qiushi on the importance of "recognizing and consciously resisting Western concepts of journalism." From his introduction:
It goes without saying that the Chinese Communist Party has long had a tense and often combative relationship with the foreign press, and particularly with media from Western countries, which it habitually accuses of institutionalized bias. Chinese scholars and government officials have written reams about the predominance of “negative” news coverage about China in newspapers like the New York Times — and such research, usually leading to foregone confirmations of bias, are de rigueur in communication studies circles in China.
In the eyes of many Chinese, the Western media have been thoroughly discredited by their “negative” reporting on China. Perceptions are hardly helped by the fact that most Chinese cannot regularly access foreign media coverage, even if language is not an issue, and by the fact that China’s government regularly attacks foreign media coverage as false or overblown. Nuance is virtually impossible to come by. In a piece last month, an editor at China-US Focus, a research website linked to the China-United States Exchange Foundation launched by former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee Hwa, closed a discussion of supposed Western media bias by arguing that while negative coverage is inevitable if media are to fulfill their watchdog role, Chinese people “deserve to be portrayed not as imperial subjects, but as people with autonomy and initiative.”
In light of the FCCC report, and in the midst of ongoing frictions over fairness in reporting, it is crucial to remember that the Chinese Communist Party in fact rejects, in its official position on the media, the entire basis on which we might talk about things like fact, fairness, transparency or objectivity. For the Party, there is in fact no debate about what purpose the media service, or how. As Xi Jinping said back in 2016, the media must all be “surnamed Party,” which is to say that they must love, protect and serve the interests of the Party. [Source]
The Qiushi piece argues that with their "constant smearing, defaming and demonizing of China, sparing no pains in attacking the leadership system of the Chinese Communist Party and our country’s socialist system, the Western media have always been the daring vanguard of ideological infiltration." These accusations echo those found in a number of online videos widely promoted by officially-affiliated social media accounts in recent years.
Last month, George Washington University’s Donald Clarke examined the related accusation that foreign media focus "too much" on human rights in China. He concluded that "the charge that China coverage focuses exclusively or even primarily on human rights, and neglects other aspects of the China story, is not sustained by preliminary evidence. And since this kind of preliminary evidence is the only kind most of us gather, it’s worth thinking about why, in spite of the evidence, this mistaken idea persists with such vigor."