Xi Jinping has created a “nightmare” of Mao-era media oppression, and Hong Kong journalism is in “free fall,” according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In a major report released on Wednesday, the journalism group detailed the deterioration in the treatment of journalists and the strengthening of information control in China, adding to an environment in which “free access to information has become a crime. and providing information an even more serious crime ”. .
“Regardless of the subject, those who refuse to abide by the official narrative are accused of harming national unity. “
In the front of the report, RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said that before Xi came to power in 2013, there was an emerging trend towards improving press freedom, but he had “put a brutal end to this partial opening and restored a media culture worthy of the Maoist era”.
“This ‘great leap back’ in journalism in China is all the more terrifying given that the regime has immense financial and technological resources to achieve its objectives,” said Deloire.
The report listed a growing number of “obstacles” to journalism, including online censorship and surveillance, paid amateur propagandists known as the “50-cent army,” an increased use of detention without trial, the Hong Kong National Security Law, forced televised confessions, daily instructions. from the Communist Party to editorial offices and other platforms, the use of allegations ranging from “picking arguments” to espionage to silence journalists, and the militarization of exit bans.
Along with advancements in surveillance and technology, the report also described a decision introduced in October 2019 that all Chinese journalists must use a smartphone app called “Study Xi, Strengthen the Country,” which cybersecurity experts say , could allow the collection of personal data and remote access to the microphone of the device.
According to RSF and the Beijing Foreign Correspondents Club, harassment and intimidation of journalists, both local and foreign, has increased markedly, especially during coverage of the catastrophic flooding in Henan earlier this year. The Henan provincial government has issued a tender for a monitoring system specific to journalists after the floods.
In 2020, at least 18 foreign U.S. media correspondents were deported, while others were forced to flee, including the BBC’s John Sudworth and Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Mike Smith, who were investigating the arrest for the Australian CGTN presenter Cheng Lei’s national security. Several citizen journalists have been arrested for attempting to report on the Wuhan lockdown, while others have been targeted for their work on the #MeToo cases.
Until the 2020 and 2021 crackdown, Hong Kong’s media was considered free and separated from mainland controls, but RSF said this was no longer the case and the industry was in “free fall.”
The report cited the arrest and jail of journalists and media owners such as Apple Daily’s Jimmy Lai, the raid on newsrooms, massive changes to the public broadcaster RTHK and lack of consequences. for police violence against journalists.
“The repression no longer spares Hong Kong, once a champion of press freedom, where a growing number of arrests are now carried out in the name of national security,” said Deloire.
The report made several recommendations and calls for authorities to improve the situation, but also listed detailed advice for journalists to protect themselves and their sources from technological surveillance and intimidation.
He called on global democracies to “identify all appropriate strategies to deter the Beijing regime from continuing its repressive policies and to support all Chinese citizens who love their country and want to defend the right to information.”