Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province.(AP/ File photo)
Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province.(AP/ File photo)

China extensively censored Coronavirus outbreak info, impact felt globally: Media watchdog

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated “the many crises” threatening press freedom across the world, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Tuesday, unveiling its annual press rankings.
By Sutirtho Patranobis | Hindustan Times, Beijing
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2020 06:28 PM IST

China “extensively” censored information on the coronavirus outbreak, a leading media watchdog has said, adding that the negative effects of Beijing’s “information hyper-control” system have been experienced globally amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated “the many crises” threatening press freedom across the world, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Tuesday, unveiling its annual press rankings.

The RSF called out authoritarian governments for taking advantage of the international health crisis to push through repressive media laws, censure journalists and censor news.

“Both China (177th) and Iran (173rd) censored their major coronavirus outbreaks extensively,” the RSF report said, adding: “China, which is trying to establish a ‘new world media order’ maintains its system of information hyper-control, of which the negative effects for the entire world have been seen during the coronavirus public health crisis”.

China has been accused of downplaying and covering up initial information of the coronavirus which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

The severity of the “unknown fever” was downplayed and doctors who attempted to raise the alarm were harassed and detained; medics who shared their concerns within the community were rounded up as “rumourmongers”

Until nearly the third week of January, officials did not publicly reveal the full picture of the outbreak, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to travel out of Wuhan.

China, since the initial costly missteps, has largely brought the outbreak under control within the country.

On Tuesday, the Chinese mainland reported 11 new confirmed Covid-19 cases, with four imported cases, and 37 new asymptomatic.

Overall, the China now has over 4,600 deaths and more than 82,700 cases.

Separately, RSF’s UK bureau director, Rebecca Vincent told CNN Business that if there had been a free press in China and if the whistleblowers hadn’t been silenced, then this could have been prevented from turning into a pandemic.

“Sometimes we can talk about press freedom in a theoretical way, but this shows the impact can at times be physical. It can affect all of our health,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry dismissed the RSF’s report.

Spokesperson Geng Shuang said that “this organisation has always held deep-rooted prejudice against China and their so-called report is not worth rebutting.”

“China upholds the basic national policy of opening up to the outside word, and welcomes foreign media and journalists,” Geng said.

“We are opposed to ideological biases against China, publication of fake news in the name of so-called press freedom as well as behaviors that are against journalistic ethics.”

Norway topped the global index of media freedom for the fourth year in a row, with Scandinavian countries filling the top spots. Finland came in second, Denmark third and Sweden fourth.

“The democratically elected presidents of two countries, Donald Trump in the United States (up 3 at 45th) and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (down 2 at 107th), continue to denigrate the media and encourage hatred of journalists in their respective countries.”

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