BEIJING, China — Chinese journalists now face charges akin to treason if they pass along unauthorized information to Chinese employees at international news organizations.
On June 30, 2014, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued new regulations that inhibit the liberties that Chinese journalists had struggled to obtain over the past 25 years.
In effect, the regulations isolate Chinese journalists. Prior, if a journalist’s superior did not authorize a story, the journalist could take his or her information to one of many Chinese nationals who work for foreign media organizations. The nationals would then relay the information to foreign reporters and editors who could publish it.
With the new regulations, President Xi Jinping’s administration has constructed a barrier between the Chinese journalists working for domestic news agencies and the Chinese nationals working for foreigners.
If someone were to release “unapproved” information to a foreign organization, they could be charged with “revealing state secrets.”
David Schlesinger, the former Chairman of Thomson Reuters China, described a system in which rebellious reporters are ominously called in for “chats,” dismissed outright or threatened with criminal sanctions.
Song Zhibiao became the first Chinese journalist to lose his job in the wake of the June 30 announcement. He allegedly violated the new regulations by writing articles for a Hong Kong-based press group. In 2011, Song was also forced to resign from his position at the Southern Metropolis Daily after he had criticized the government for its negligence leading up to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
The Leninist view of the press as a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party has never fully lost its dominance in China’s political system.
“[The] power of newspapers consist[s]in their ability to present the Party’s line,” said Mao Zedong in 1961.
In 2013, President Jinping reaffirmed Mao’s notion when he announced the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership’s intention to rein in the media.
Why has the Chinese government decided to act now?
The Snowden revelations showed the Chinese government technology’s ability to disseminate sensitive information. To prevent such an incident in China, the government wants to exert more control over the domestic media.
In addition, foreigners have come under heavy suspicion. Journalists working for The New York Times and Bloomberg have recently dealt with threats of expulsion. Both organizations angered the Chinese elite in 2012 when they reported the wealth of major figures in the Chinese government, including President Jinping.
Al Jazeera English had to close its bureau in Beijing after its China correspondent, Melissa Chan, found she could not get her visa renewed.
The Chinese government is determined to isolate its journalists from foreign media groups so as to conduct its affairs in the shadows.
– Ryan Yanke