Faced with growing social unrest, the government has chosen to impose a news blackout. The press has been forced into self-censorship, the Internet purged and foreign media kept at a distance.
Arrests of journalists, particularly Chinese contributors to foreign media, continued in 2005. Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter with a Singapore daily was imprisoned for “espionage”. While Zhao Yan, contributor to the New York Times, winner of a 2005 Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France press freedom award, is to be tried for “disclosing state secrets”. In Tibet, five monks were arresting for working on an underground publication, while in Muslim Xinjiang, the editor of a literary magazine was sentenced to three years in prison. As of 1st January 2006, at least 32 journalists were in prison throughout the country.
Every day, Chinese editors receive a list of banned subjects from the Propaganda Department, renamed the Publicity Department. These include demonstrations by peasants, the unemployed or Tibetans - nothing escapes the censors who stoke up a climate of fear within editorial offices. When the army opened fire on villagers in December, draconian measures were put in place: The press was banned from carrying anything but reports from the official Xinhua news agency, foreign reporters were persona non grata in the region and every reference to the village was erased from the Internet.
In the same way, the announcement of the death of former prime minister Zhao Ziyang, ousted in 1989, was banned by the government, his name missing from television, discussion forums and search engines. In December the press was banned from publishing a single word on the death in exile of journalist Liu Binyan, dubbed the “conscience of China”.
At least 16 foreign journalists were arrested by police in 2005 while investigating sensitive issues. China has given no promises to guarantee their freedom to work ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Television and radio are subjected to even greater control than the written press. The propaganda department imposed sanctions on Guangdong TV presenters seen as exercising too much freedom. Foreign channels are not accessible to most citizens and are censored if they refer to human rights, Taiwan or the Falungong spiritual movement.
One newspaper editor put it like this: The government gives us permission to “entertain and to promote consumption”. It is precisely in these sectors that foreign press groups are permitted to invest. Despite promises announced when it joined the World Trade Organisation, China has never opened its market to foreign news media.
Journalists remain free in Hong Kong, although a poll revealed that nearly half the population believes they operate self-censorship. The authorities have so far proved incapable of clearing up a murder attempt with a letter bomb against the editor of the daily Ming Pao.
Annual report 2006 Chinese