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Number 1 Shimbun

Freedom of the Press news - Under watch: Reporting in China’s surveillance state



THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS’ CLUB OF CHINA (FCCC), based in Beijing, recently surveyed foreign journalist members to assess how their reporting was being affected by state-electronic and human surveillance in the People’s Republic of China. The survey was conducted in December, and 109 of the 204 correspondent members responded.

According to the FCCC, the survey, released on Jan. 29 of this year, “painted the darkest picture of reporting conditions inside China in recent memory. Rapidly expanding surveillance and widespread government interference against reporting in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang drove a significant deterioration in the work environment for foreign journalists in China in 2018.”

Some highlights of the survey:

  • Nearly half of the correspondents directly experienced human surveillance, being followed or having their hotel room entered
  • 22 percent of respondents said they were aware of authorities having tracked them using public surveillance systems
  • 50 percent of respondents said surveillance impacted their reporting

The expanding scope of surveillance means journalists have been subject to intimidation in their personal lives, and made unable to contact sources or even report at all in some regions. Following are some of their experiences.

Multiple phone calls were cut off while discussing politically sensitive subjects.
Josh Chin, Wall Street Journal

Police officers told me they knew about a social event I was organizing that I had privately invited friends to using WeChat.
Yuan Yang, Financial Times

WeChat messages sometimes mysteriously disappeared from my phone while sharing politically sensitive information with my colleagues via a group chat.
Tomoyuki Tachikawa, Kyodo News

We (a TV crew of three) traveled to Wen’an, Hebei for a story on plastic recycling. Within about half an hour, a local official along with a couple of bao’an security officers and several other men in plainclothes drove up and met us. The official told us they’d been looking all over the small town for us and found us because of the surveillance cameras. They escorted us to the county line to ensure we left.
Bill Birtles, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Most of my trips to the field revolve completely around how to get as much as we can before we are likely stopped or detained, with a lot of strategizing about easier, less sensitive stories that could be done first so as not to come back completely empty-handed. On a trip to Ningxia, I aborted a story entirely out of fear that I had been compromised and would get anyone I subsequently interacted with in trouble.
Becky Davis, Agence France-Presse

In Xinjiang, in a lot of situations, I didn’t even try to conduct an interview, because we didn’t want to get anyone in danger. And when every corner is monitored, you do bring danger to your sources.
Axel Dorloff, ARD German Radio

I was followed and tracked for nearly 1,600 kilometers by at least nine cars and 20 people – most of whom refused to identify themselves or their organizations. I was also threatened with arrest, and had armed police approach my vehicle with shields raised and told to put my hands outside the car. I was detained numerous times. A police officer seized my camera and deleted pictures without my consent.
Nathan VanderKlippe, Globe and Mail

I’ve come into the office several times while dealing with a sensitive story and my computer hasn’t started up. One of my reporters had computer issues while covering the trial of a human rights lawyer. As a security measure, we recently decided to reimage every computer in the bureau.
• Bureau chief of a US news organization

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China is a Beijing-based professional organization comprising more than 200 correspondents from over 30 countries and regions.

Published in: May 2019

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