Global watchdog finds Beijing’s strict control of information at home a threat to global press freedom
China is trying to establish a “new world media order” to prevent and counter criticism, a project that threatens press freedom globally, watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned in a report released on Monday.
Communist authorities in China strictly control the flow of information to citizens, including through the “Great Firewall” which blocks access to websites and content deemed inappropriate by the state. But the bid to regulate information is not limited to China, and RSF said Beijing is “exporting” its methods of censorship and control of information to other countries.
“Through its embassies and its network of Chinese culture-and-language Confucius Institutes, China no longer hesitates to harass and intimidate in order to impose its ‘ideologically correct’ vocabulary and cover up the darker chapters in its history,” according to the report.
Beijing’s methods to exert influence beyond its borders include “lavishing money on modernizing its international TV broadcasting, investing in foreign media outlets, buying vast amounts of advertising in the international media, and inviting journalists from all over the world on all-expense-paid trips visits to China,” RSF said. Lo Shih-hung, communications professor at Taiwan’s National Chung Cheng University, said Beijing had “made headway in shaping a more favorable public opinion of itself worldwide” by using soft power as well as common political and business interests.
“The results are quite evident… Many countries… are reluctant to ask China too many hard questions or pressure the Chinese government.”
The RSF report also detailed what it called a “trojan horse policy,” under which Beijing routinely buys advertorials in prestigious international newspapers—including The Wall Street Journal, Le Figaro and the Daily Telegraph.
Written entirely by teams from state-owned media, the watchdog said, these supplements carry official Chinese messages for foreign readers. “The new world media order which the Chinese authorities are promoting around the world is against journalism,” said Cedric Alviani of RSF’s East Asia Bureau. “It is a new media order in which the journalist works for the state not for the citizen.”
The watchdog’s report said the Chinese campaign “poses a direct threat not only to the media but also to democracies.”
Beijing dismissed the report as “totally not in conformity with the facts, and not worth refuting,” with foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang accusing RSF of “prejudice” against China.
China was ranked 176 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom index.