International journalists were obstructed from covering this protest in the city of Ningbo today. (AFP/Peter Parks)
International journalists were obstructed from covering this protest in the city of Ningbo today. (AFP/Peter Parks)

China obstructs, censors foreign media before congress

New York, October 29, 2012–Officials from China’s Communist Party should stop censoring and obstructing foreign journalists in the lead-up to the Party Congress scheduled for November 8, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Information security is notoriously tight before the five-yearly congress, which is expected to usher in high-level leadership change in 2012.

Information officials blocked the New York Times‘ English- and Chinese-language websites on Friday when the newspaper published an in-depth report on the financial assets held by Premier Wen Jiabao’s family. Wen’s lawyers publicly disputed the article’s findings. References to the article’s content, including the figure “$2.7 billion,” the amount the Times traced back Wen’s relatives, were scrubbed from social media, the Times reported.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed the censorship in a press conference, saying it was in accordance with Chinese law, news reports said. Reporting on political leaders–especially anything revealing they have profited from their status–is heavily controlled in China’s domestic media, according to CPJ research.

On Monday, men in plainclothes obstructed a Sky News TV crew reporting on local environmental protests in Ningbo, southeastern Zhejiang province. Demonstrators were protesting the government’s decision to build a new petro-chemical plant that would emit pollution, Agence France-Presse reported. Riot police then took the journalists from the scene, Sky News reported. “We were pushed and dragged down a flight of steps and our cameraman Andy Portch was kicked,” Lisa Holland, foreign affairs correspondent for the outlet, said in the report.

Police also briefly detained an Agence France-Presse journalist at the scene of the protests, but did not identify the journalist by name.

“It is a bad sign for China if the Communist Party introduces new leaders in a wave of censorship and anti-press aggression,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “The Chinese people deserve full access to news coverage that is in their public interest.”

Censorship of international news outlets is common in China, but has been particularly so this year, CPJ research shows. In June, information authorities cut access to Bloomberg News in connection with its coverage of personal wealth accumulated by close associates of Vice President Xi Jinping. The story was embarrassing for Xi, who is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as the party’s highest ranking leader at November’s congress, and who has spoken out against political corruption in the past.

Also this year, the Foreign Ministry declined to renew Al-Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan’s journalist credentials, forcing her out of the country in May. Although it was the first time an international correspondent has been publicly expelled since 1998, the ministry did not provide an explanation for the decision.

  • For more data and analysis on China, visit CPJ’s China page here.