It’s Official: China Treats Journalists Worse Than Almost Every Other Country
If you had to pick one of the riskiest, most oppressive places for a journalist to exist and to try and function professionally, almost nowhere in the world is worse than China.
That’s according to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders, which ranks each country in the world on the basis of how it treats journalists. This year, for example, Norway is at the very top of the list, with RWB noting that the country has been ranked above most countries for years on the basis of its free speech and general democratic protections (the US, in contrast, comes in at #44 this year, right below Taiwan, as a result of the inexorable collapse of many local news outlets around the US, in addition to a disturbing and growing distrust in mainstream media).
China, meanwhile, can’t get much worse in terms of its horrible treatment of journalists. According to the World Press Freedom Index, only three countries treat reporters worse than China does — with Turkmenistan, North Korea and the African nation of Eritrea rounding out the very bottom of the list.
As far as the reasons for China’s placement near the very bottom, let’s start with the fact that state control of media in the country is pervasive, and all-consuming. Critics of the regime of President Xi Jinping, for example, are routinely rounded up and jailed, like dissident blogger Yang Tongyan and Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was seized as a political prisoner in part for calling for China to end its one-party communist rule. As a result of mistreatment in prison, Tibetan activist Kunchok Jinpa died earlier this year, while, according to RWB, more than 120 journalists and “press freedom defenders” are currently jailed in China — more than anywhere in the world, according to the press organization.
“By relying on the massive use of new technology, President Xi Jinping’s regime has imposed a social model based on control of news and information and online surveillance of its citizens,” the latest World Press Freedom Index for China explains. “China’s state and privately-owned media are under the Communist Party’s ever-tighter control, while the administration creates more and more obstacles for foreign reporters. At the same time, Beijing is trying to export its oppressive model by promoting a ‘new world media order’ under China’s influence.”
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has also given China’s president Jinping an excuse to ramp up these practices even more. By way of imposing an even tighter crackdown on journalists during the pandemic, the country is still holding several journalists in jail for their coverage of the coronavirus crisis, along with hundreds of social media users who were arrested and at least briefly detained for sharing what the government deemed “false rumors” about the virus.
Then there’s the fact that the All-China Journalists Association, which purports to be a code of ethics for journalists in China, encourages reporters to “persist in arming the mind” with the orthodoxy of Xi Jinping and on “Chinese characteristics for a new era.” This crackdown on journalism also extends, by the way, to news that happens outside the country. Following Chloe Zhao’s Oscar win for Best Director on Sunday (for Nomandland), anyone who thought the reaction in her home country of China might at least be a little comparable to that enjoyed by Bong Joon-ho (the South Korea-born director who won that same Oscar last year for Parasite) was proven wrong.
News about Zhao’s Academy Award recognition was censored in China, per The Wall Street Journal, seemingly because of an old interview that re-surfaced following this year’s Golden Globes, an interview during which Zhao told Filmmaker magazine that China is a place “where there are lies everywhere.”
Chinese journalist Zhang Wenmin lamented how bad things have gotten in an interview with The New York Times
. “The space for free speech has become so limited,” said a woman who the Times pointed was once regarded as one of China’s “most feared journalists,” a reporter who regularly uncovered stories about wrongful convictions and police brutality, among other topics, around the country.
Under Xi Jinping, however, such fearless, independent reporting has become nearly impossible to do. Zhang told the Times that Chinese authorities shut down her social media accounts. And that she had to resort to living off of her savings, since outlets stopped publishing her work.
“We’re almost extinct,” Liu Hu, another Chinese journalist, told the Times about independent-minded reporters. Hu spent time in jail after reporting on political corruption. “No one is left to reveal the truth.”