China's Journalists under Threat; Native Reporters Are Denied Deference Shown Foreign Scribes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 3, 2010 | Go to article overview

China's Journalists under Threat; Native Reporters Are Denied Deference Shown Foreign Scribes


Byline: Phelim Kine, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

China's Economic Observer reporter Qiu Ziming beat the odds in July by not going to jail. Mr. Qui had been the target of a Zhejiang police arrest warrant issued at the behest of a powerful local paper company, which Mr. Qiu had exposed for insider trading. Police withdrew the arrest warrant and issued a rare public apology on July 29 after Mr. Qiu's employers strongly defended his reporting. Mr. Qiu is one of the lucky ones.

On July 23, Gheyret Niyaz, a Uighur journalist and the editor of a popular website called Uighurbiz, was far less lucky: He received a 15-year prison sentence on charges of endangering state security. Mr. Niyaz's crime ? Giving an interview to foreign media after the July 2009 ethnic violence in Xinjiang - even though he maintained the government's line that the violence had been sparked by outside agitators.

The government's message to journalists in Xinjiang: Speak to foreign journalists at your peril.That same week, a Xinjiang court convicted three Uighur bloggers on the same charge. Dilshat Perhat, webmaster of Diyarim; the webmaster of Salkinm, who goes by the single name Nureli; and Nijat Azat, webmaster of Shabnam, received sentences of five years, three years and 10 years, respectively.

It's been two years since the Beijing Olympics, which the Chinese government heralded as an accelerant for the development of society, including democracy and human rights, but a job in the Chinese media remains a risky proposition. It shouldn't be. The constitution of the People's Republic of China guarantees freedom of the press, as does the official National Human Rights Action Plan, which commits the government to strengthening the legitimate right and interests of Chinese journalists.

Instead, government officials, security forces and plainclothes thugs continue to deny Chinese journalists even the basic reporting rights granted to foreign correspondents to freely travel the country outside of the troubled region of Tibet and to interview any consenting person. This fettering of local media deprives everyone - citizens, foreign governments and foreign and domestic companies - of a clear understanding of on-the-ground realities in a period of high-speed social and economic change.

Control and coercion of China's media is nothing new. China's journalists remain hostage to the dictates of a state propaganda system, which determines both the topics they cover and the preferred official angle of their reporting. That system hamstrings many Chinese journalists pursuing timely and accurate reporting of important breaking news deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.

The past few months offer a glimpse into what the government deems sensitive and how it responds to those issues. Google's decision this spring to stop self-censorship of its domestic search engine prompted the official Publicity Department, which determines the scope and substance of Chinese media reporting, to limit all domestic reporting on the topic to extremely circumspect bulletins issued by the official Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television. …

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