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  • Surveys | 3 July, 2013 (16:47)

    FCCC Annual Working Conditions Report 2013

    (May 2013)

    The past year has seen unprecedented examples of investigative journalism by western reporters in China. Unfortunately, the Chinese government has increasingly resorted to threats and intimidation against foreign media, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual “Reporting Conditions” survey* of its members, and its review of incidents reported over the last 12 months.

    The FCCC survey, carried out in May 2013, found that 98 percent of respondents do not think reporting conditions in China meet international standards, and 70 percent feel conditions have worsened or stayed the same as the year before. Only three respondents say they think things are getting better; the rest have not been here long enough to have an opinion.

    Among the FCCC’s greatest concerns are

    –  government retaliation against foreign media which have incurred official displeasure
    –  threats to the physical safety of reporters whose reports have offended the authorities
    –  increased cyber harassment and hacking attacks on foreign journalists
    –  continuing restrictions on journalists’ movements in Tibetan-inhabited areas of China
    –  official harassment of sources
    –  official intimidation of reporters’ Chinese assistants
    The survey found 63 cases in which police officers or unknown persons impeded foreign reporters from doing their work, including nine cases in which reporters were manhandled or subjected to physical force. This represents a welcome drop from last year, but remains unacceptable.

    “Attacks on journalists, those working with them and their sources have replaced detention by uniformed police.” A US radio correspondent.

    “It has now become normal that uniformed police stand with arms folded as plainclothes ‘thugs’ appear. The thugs are often violent. I have received many bruises during these incidents.” A British TV correspondent.

    OFFICIAL RETALIATION AND INTIMIDATION

    Victims of government retaliation include The New York Times and Bloomberg. The New York Times English and Chinese language websites are blocked in China and the newspaper has been unable to secure journalist visas for either Bureau Chief Philip Pan or correspondent Chris Buckley. Bloomberg has also been unable to secure journalist visas in order to replace its correspondents and the company has reportedly suffered significant commercial harm from a drop in sales of its data terminals.

    Three other media companies, France 24, ARD TV (Germany) and the Financial Times have also come under unusual Chinese government pressure after publishing news reports that angered the Chinese authorities. Chinese embassy officials in Paris, Berlin and London lodged direct complaints with senior editors, in an apparent effort to pressure them into restraining their reporters in Beijing.

    Although routine delays in the provision of journalist visas appear to have shortened in recent months, ten percent of survey respondents reported difficulties in obtaining official press accreditation or a journalist visa on account of their reporting or that of their predecessors.

    “My paper has been working on my accreditation since August last year. The authorities stated that the difficulties were due to the work of my predecessor.” A European newspaper reporter.

    Intimidation can also be more particular and more threatening. One foreign reporter whose articles angered elements of the Chinese government was told by the manager of the building where he lives that security officials had visited and asked the manager questions about the reporter’s family life, the layout of his apartment, where his children went to school and other personal questions.page1image30736

    CYBER ATTACKS

    Cyber attacks on FCCC members have become routine. Though we cannot identify the origin of these efforts to install malware and spyware on our computers, the club’s cyber-security consultant has found that many of the attacks are targeted deliberately at foreign correspondents based in China.

    GEOGRAPHICAL REPORTING RESTRICTIONS

    Restrictions on foreign journalists’ access to “sensitive” areas of the country remain widespread, arbitrary and unexplained. Reporters have been told by officials in Qinghai that all Tibetan-inhabited areas of China are off-limits to the foreign press. Though such a blanket ban is not always applied, local officials have repeatedly interfered with reporting work.

    “I was road-blocked, denied access and constantly followed and monitored in Qinghai from the day of my arrival.” A French newspaper correspondent.

    HARASSMENT OF SOURCES

    Previous FCCC reports on working conditions in China have complained about the official harassment of Chinese citizens who talk to reporters, which they are free to do if they so choose according to the Chinese government regulations governing foreign journalists’ activities. Such harassment continues at the same level as ever: the survey found 23 such cases in 2012-2013.

    “After reporting on self-immolations in Qinghai I learned that my local fixer had been harassed by the police. They showed him all the Skype and phone contacts he had had with foreign journalists. He seemed scared.” A European newspaper reporter.

    HARASSMENT OF EMPLOYEES

    30 percent of respondents to the FCCC survey said that their Chinese assistants had been called in by the police or other security forces to “drink tea”, a euphemism for an interrogation. The employees are commonly asked to inform the police about reporters’ activities and plans. Two such assistants have reported that their relatives have also come under official pressure on account of their work.