New York, August 20, 2001—Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and other officials have said publicly that Chinese journalists should act as watchdogs over society. In reality, journalists are regularly harassed or threatened and sometimes sent to prison for doing just that.
A briefing released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists exposes the subtle, and not-so-subtle, mechanisms employed by the Chinese government to control journalists. The briefing also chronicles how journalists have defied the restrictions to report on major stories of corruption or scandal, such as the mining disaster in Guangxi Province that killed hundreds.
Provincial governors and other local officials have been increasingly zealous in their efforts to suppress critical coverage, tending to ensure that “negative reports never see the light of day,” the report notes.
“Running in Place” describes how China’s government often avoids putting restrictive regulations on paper in order to hide evidence of the state’s role in the censorship process. Rather, restrictions are “communicated in quiet conversations between editors and provincial propaganda officers.” Officials also apply quiet but intense pressure on editors and directors to fire or demote journalists who offend the regime.
China is the world’s leading jailer of journalists: According to CPJ research, 22 Chinese journalists were imprisoned for their work at the end of last year, more than any other country. Since January 2001, seven people have been arrested in China for publishing or distributing information on the Internet. There have been a total of 14 such arrests since 1998.
Meanwhile, authorities in Beijing recently promulgated a list of forbidden topics, known as the “Seven No’s,” as part of one of the most intense government crackdowns on the Chinese media in recent years.
The report was written by Asia program associate Sophie Beach, who spent several years in China working as a teacher, free-lance journalist, and researcher and translator for the Washington Post‘s Beijing bureau. Beach has also worked as a consultant for the advocacy group Human Rights in China and has written free-lance articles for Ms. Magazine and The Nation. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where she concentrated on East Asian Studies and human rights.