CPJ: How China Undermines Press Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan

The Committee to Protect Journalists this week published the report “One Country, One Censor: How China Undermines Media Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” which examines the two regions as the “frontlines” in the battle to “understand how China tries to influence the media” globally. At TIME, Amy Gunia summarizes the 33-page report and quotes CPJ staff on its significance:

“The era of total censorship that Xi Jinping has ushered into China after becoming president in 2013 increasingly threatens to undermine the press freedoms enjoyed in both Hong Kong and Taiwan,” says Steven Butler, Asia Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In Taiwan, China has used commercial pressures to influence media, according to CPJ. A deluge of disinformation aims to sway public opinion ahead of presidential elections in January 2020 when incumbent Tsai Ing-wen faces off against pro-Beijing candidate Han Kuo-yu.

[…] The CPJ report alleges that some media outlets in Taiwan have taken instruction on “how to slant coverage.” Although the media agencies have denied the allegations, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission told CPJ the case is under investigation.

In Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, around half the mainstream media outlets have close political ties to the mainland, according to the CPJ.

“China-influenced publications and broadcast channels have come to dominate the media scene in Hong Kong while a scrappy, underfunded independent sector battles for audience and revenue,” Butler said. […] [Source]

China’s effort to control the mainland media are more direct. Earlier this month, CPJ named China the world’s leading jailor of journalists, with 48 in prison as of December 1 2019. In addition to the regular issuing of censorship directives for mainland media outlets, Beijing this week updated its code of ethics for journalists to emphasize reporters’ duties to uphold the guiding ideology of Xi Jinping. At China Law Translate, Jeremy Daum summarizes the changes in the new code, noting that external propaganda has now been officially included. This is the first update to the code since Xi came to power, but the goals to better “tell China’s story to the world” and build “flagship media with strong international influence” have been longstanding.

Earlier this week the All-China Journalists Association updated its professional ethics code for the first time in 10 years. This Code isn’t central to China’s tight regulation of the press, but is a clear statement of the values that journalists are expected to uphold, so it’s no surprise that many look to it for clues as to the direction the profession is heading in. Despite some rewording, however, the code remained largely the same, but it’s worth a quick run through of what changes were actually made.

[…] Explaining China to the world. Of the Code’s 7 articles, only the last article changed its topic sentence. Article 7 previously emphasized the importance of further exchanges and cooperation with foreign media, and now emphasizes ‘presenting a positive image to the world.’ This thrust wasn’t absent in the previous versions, but has been expanded with new language on explaining Chinese culture, as well as Socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Party’s story. [Source]

With Taiwan’s national election on the horizon, concerns over Beijing’s attempts to interfere and influence the results have been high, and Taiwanese officials and citizens have been fighting back. At NPR earlier this month, Emily Feng surveyed some of the methods that Beijing is using to influence opinion by spreading disinformation in Taiwan:

Puma Shen runs DoubleThink Labs, a research outfit monitoring how false information travels from content farms funded by Chinese state or party-run entities to Facebook fan pages to news shows in Taiwan, and broadcast to an unsuspecting public.

Shen says one tactic he sees is an online “subliminal attack” to sway voters. Hundreds of hackers search one candidate’s name over and over again to slant search engine algorithms toward displaying their results more prominently than other candidates’.

One day, Shen predicts China will surpass Russia in global disinformation operations.

[…] Cédric Alviani, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ East Asia bureau in Taipei, warns that coercive measures against media, including fining news outlets, are counterproductive: “By doing this kind of thing, the Taiwanese authorities are actually doing the exact same thing as they criticize,” he says. He’s referring to how Taiwan is using top-down methods to control undesirable speech comparable to what China’s Communist Party does. [Source]

Reuters Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard report on how Taipei is working to counter Beijing’s disinformation:

“Taiwan is a democratic, open society. They are using our freedom and openness, bringing in news that is not beneficial to the government,” Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told Reuters, referring to China.

[…] Fact-checking groups say people are being bombarded with fake news and have set up websites and chat rooms, and held seminars, to help people identify it.Government task forces have been mandated to “bust rumors” while a security agency has launched a “special mission” to crack down on suspected fake news from China to influence votes, according to an official with knowledge of the matter who declined to be identified. […] [Source]

At the Los Angeles Times, Alice Su reports deeper on crowd-sourced fact-checking campaigns in Taiwan:

In Taiwan, a bill prohibiting foreign “infiltration” of elections is stalled in the legislature, challenged by critics who say it brings back memories of the “White Terror,” a nearly four-decade period of martial law that ended only in 1987.

Instead, Taiwan’s government is relying on private citizens to check facts and promote media literacy.

In a small office tucked inside a TV broadcast building, four former journalists recently pored over social media posts for the Taiwan FactCheck Center, a nonprofit group that started collaborating with Facebook in July 2018 to debunk disinformation on Taiwanese pages. The center is supported by two private foundations and is not funded by any government, political party or politician.

[…] Johnson Liang, the founder of CoFacts, acknowledged that it was hard to change the minds of people deceived by disinformation, but he said that the chatbot at least provided alternative viewpoints to consider.

“We’re providing information, not telling people what to think,” Liang said. [Source]

In an opinion essay published at the Los Angeles Times, Jodi Schneider, the president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong, argues that the increased danger that journalists in Hong Kong face is exemplary of a mounting global threat to press freedom. Pro-democracy protesters have been demonstrating in the city for the past six months. As violence between demonstrators and police has been on the rise, journalists have increasingly been subject to restrictions and attacks by counterprotesters and police.

Two deaths. Hundreds injured. More than 10,000 rounds of tear gas and half as many rubber bullets fired. More than six months of unrest. People and businesses are leaving Hong Kong as anti-government protests disrupt a city long praised for efficiency, ease of doing business and its retention of basic freedoms — including press freedom — that are nonexistent across the border in mainland China.

[…] The media have become part of the story as Hong Kong’s once-vaunted press freedom has been severely impaired.

[…] The attacks on the press have occurred even though journalists are clearly identified. They wear helmets and bright yellow vests emblazoned with “PRESS” and present press identification to police officers.

[…] If that spirit slips away in Hong Kong, it could embolden other authoritarian-minded governments and world leaders to discredit the crucial role the press plays in societies around the world. The increasing danger facing journalists here is a threat to press freedom everywhere. [Source]


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