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Authorities ruthlessly censor independent reporting

Chinese security forces at a protest: just one of several incidents Chinese journalists are regularly banned from reporting.
Chinese security forces at a protest: just one of several incidents Chinese journalists are regularly banned from reporting.

via Reuters

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has released a new report that highlights the arbitrary manner in which Chinese authorities forbid reporting on numerous issues, manipulating the flow of information. The Chinese media are routinely pummelled with restrictions, leaving very little room for independent news gathering.

The report, "China Clings to Control: Press Freedom in 2009," provides a detailed account of media bans issued by central and provincial authorities, revealing how widespread and thorough censorship is in China. Several official bodies supervise the media, including the powerful Central Propaganda Department.

Reporting on corruption, political reform in Hong Kong and the details of the Xinjiang riots in which almost 200 were killed has been banned. In addition, authorities did not permit reporting on stories like the closure of a research centre run by human rights lawyers who provided assistance to minority groups. For coverage of the one-year anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, journalists were told they could only use state information and were not permitted to talk to survivors of the tragedy.

A local journalist told IFJ: "It has been a really difficult year for press freedom in China. Propaganda departments have issued bans on the media, one after another. Cases of journalists being beaten have been reported again and again. The environment for journalism is awful - this is particularly evident when looking at what information is published on the Internet."

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities closely watched massive demonstrations brought to life by social networking in Iran after the disputed June 2009 elections, says the report. Chinese journalists were told to cover the Iran protests "in a low-key way without commentary," and to limit the number of articles on the issue. In the face of the growing power of the Internet as a tool for mobilising dissent, the Chinese government introduced tighter controls for online content and greater surveillance of journalists. Websites and social networks have been shut down, and journalists and bloggers arrested. The state almost completely controls online news.

Foreign journalists faced many challenges as well, including destruction of work equipment and being barred from public spaces. The report outlines cases of foreign journalists being detained and Chinese assistants being punished for working with foreign media crews."Sources, potential interview subjects and Chinese assistants and drivers were especially targeted in actions to obstruct foreign media reporting on events in China," says the report. Hong Kong journalists reporting in Mainland China were also targeted for assault and arrest.

But the report also says that journalists do persevere in their reporting and ignore orders to not talk to a particular group of people or to not visit a specific village. And resilient netizens are finding ways to circumvent fire walls.

IFJ makes several recommendations, including: a call for the immediate release of imprisoned journalists, an end to the arbitrary detention, harassment and intimidation of local journalists and their assistants and sources, as well as freedom of movement for journalists to report in all areas of China.

China Clings to Control: Press Freedom in 2009
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