China’s government and state-owned companies are putting more pressure on media outlets around the world to prevent and punish reporting critical of Beijing, a US-based think tank has said.
“These measures obstruct newsgathering, prevent the publication of undesirable content, and punish overseas media outlets that fail to heed restrictions,” the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC writes in a report released on Tuesday.
“Indirect pressure [is] applied via proxies – including advertisers, satellite firms, and foreign governments – who take action to prevent or punish the publication of content critical of Beijing,” it said.
The report by the US government-sponsored institution documented a series of efforts by Chinese government diplomats to stop critical coverage in France, Germany, Britain, Indonesia, and New Zealand. It also linked the spending of advertising revenue by Chinese companies and access to the Chinese market with publications’ adherence to the party line.
Last year, the websites of the International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg were blocked in China after the two media outlets reported on the extensive family fortunes of former premier Wen Jiabao and current President Xi Jinping. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have both traced attempts to hack their networks to China.
Sarah Cook, the author of the study and a senior research analyst at the Freedom House think tank in Washington DC, said Hong Kong has been most affected. “The most notable change under [President Xi Jinping’s administration] has been the reportedly renewed commitment to ‘regain the Hong Kong media’ and subsequent personnel changes, both at the Liaison Office and within some pro-Beijing news outlets, where there is closer scrutiny by internal censors to what is published,” she said.
Hong Kong’s standing in the think tank’s annual freedom-of-the-press index has declined over the past years, falling from 30 to 35 on its 100 points ranking, in which zero denotes completely free and 96 equates to the status of the media in North Korea. In 2008, Freedom House downgraded its assessment of the SAR’s press from “free” to “partly free”.
Chinese-language news outlets outside China have also taken more advertorials and free content from Chinese state media, which have replaced Hong Kong outlets as the pre-eminent source of information, the report said.
“Although living in Australia, ‘new migrants’ from China are still surrounded by the Chinese media dominated by Chinese government views and narratives,” it quoted Feng Chongyi, professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s China Research Centre.
In Canada, Beijing-friendly Chinese-language papers have an inflated circulation, giving them an unfair advantage when obtaining revenue through advertising, Jack Jia, founder of the Toronto-based twice-weekly Chinese News told the researcher.
For Cook, much is at stake: “Those of us outside China, are deprived of potentially important information about a major trading partner, emerging health and environmental crises, and an accurate understanding of the scale and intensity of human rights abuses.”