A file photo showing paramilitary police standing guard at Tiananmen Gate adjacent to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. (AP)
A file photo showing paramilitary police standing guard at Tiananmen Gate adjacent to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. (AP)

‘Track, Trace, Expel’: How China treated some foreign journalists in 2020

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said in its annual report Beijing expelled the largest number of foreign journalists since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 - at least 18 foreign journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post were expelled
By Sutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Nadim Siraj
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 07:42 PM IST

Working conditions for journalists continued to decline in China in 2020 with the government harassing, intimidating and expelling reporters from the country using all arms of state power, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said in its annual report on Monday.

The report said China expelled the largest number of foreign journalists since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 - at least 18 foreign journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post were expelled.

“All arms of state power - including surveillance systems introduced to curb coronavirus - were used to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview,” the report said.

“Visas became a tit-for-tat fight, as the US government capped visa numbers for Chinese journalists in America, leading to the departure of scores of Chinese, many of whom worked for state media.”

Titled “Trace, Trace, Expel: Reporting on China Amid a Pandemic”, the report said that for the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said working conditions had improved.

As many as 150 of 220 correspondent members representing news organisations from 30 countries and regions were interviewed.

China, the report added, used the pandemic to control journalists. New surveillance systems and strict controls on movement, implemented for public health reasons, were used to limit foreign journalists, it said.

“On many occasions, correspondents were forced to abandon reporting trips after being told to leave or be quarantined on the spot,” the report added.

Visa restrictions were also used to put pressure on reporting with at least 13 correspondents given press credentials valid for six months or less. Foreign reporters are usually granted one-year visas to be renewed annually.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed it as “baseless”.

“We always welcome media and journalists from all countries to cover news in China according to the law... what we oppose is ideological bias against China and fake news in the name of press freedom,” Wang was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency on Monday.

The Chinese government doesn’t recognise the FCCC and routinely dismisses it’s annual reports on working conditions of journalists in the country.

The report said more eyes than ever are trained on China, a rising power whose influence can be felt in every corner of the globe. “China is also slated to host the Winter Olympics in early 2022 – only a year from now. At such a moment, the FCCC urges Chinese authorities to allow foreign journalists to do their jobs - reporting on this extraordinary country.”

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