An unprecedented RSF investigation: The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China

Two years after China's Pursuit of a New World Media Order, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, a report revealing the extent of the regime's campaign of repression against the right to information.

Published a year before the Chinese Communist Party's 20th National Congress, which will take place at the end of December 2022, The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China is a damning 82-page document that demonstrates the acceleration of China’s violations against its own international commitments to freedom of opinion and expression. The report, released on 7 December 2021, reveals the unprecedented campaign of repression led by the Chinese regime in recent years against journalism and the right to information worldwide.

Specifically, the report examines the regime's tools of repression against journalists and the deterioration of press freedom in Hong Kong, which was once a model of press freedom but now has an increasing number of journalists arrested in the name of national security.

The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China also details Beijing's strategy to control access to information within and beyond its borders before presenting appeals and recommendations to Chinese authorities, governments, institutions, journalists and media outlets.

If China continues its frantic race backwards, Chinese citizens may lose hope to one day see press freedom established in their country, and the Beijing regime may succeed in imposing its anti-model domestically and abroad,” says the RSF Secretary General, Christophe Deloire, who calls on democracies to “identify all appropriate strategies to dissuade the Beijing regime from pursuing its repressive policies and to support all Chinese citizens who love their country and want to defend the right to information”.

The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China

Ten key points:

  • Journalists forced to be the Party’s mouthpiece

To receive and renew their press cards, journalists will soon have to undergo a 90-hour annual training partly focusing on Xi Jinping’s “Thought”. Journalists are already required to download the Study Xi, Strengthen the Country propaganda application that can collect their personal data.

  • The world’s biggest captor of journalists

At least 127 journalists (professional and non-professional) are currently detained by the regime. The simple act of investigating a “sensitive” topic or publishing censored information can result in years of detention in unsanitary prisons, where ill-treatment can lead to death.

  • Foreign correspondents unwelcome

China’s intimidation of foreign reporters, based on surveillance and visa blackmail, forced 18 of them to leave the country in 2020.
Gui Minhai, Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei, three foreign journalists of Chinese descent, are now being detained on espionage charges. 

  • Covid-19 as an excuse for increased repression

At least ten journalists and online commentators were arrested in 2020 for the simple act of informing the public about the Covid-19 crisis in Wuhan. To this date, two of them, Zhang Zhan and Fang Bin, are still detained.

  • Media blockade in Xinjiang

Since 2016, in the name of the "fight against terrorism", the Beijing regime has been conducting a violent campaign against the Uyghurs. Seventy-one Uyghur journalists are currently detained, comprising more than half of the journalists imprisoned in China.

  • Proliferation of the “Red Lines”

The number of taboo topics keeps rising. Not only those typically deemed “sensitive” – such as Tibet, Taiwan or corruption – are subject to censorship, but also natural disasters, the #MeToo movement or even recognition of health professionals during the Covid-19 crisis.

  • Hong Kong journalists endangered by the National Security Law 

Deliberately vague, the National Security Law, imposed last year in Hong Kong by China, has since served as a pretext for the repression of at least 12 journalists and press freedom defenders, including Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, all of whom risk life sentences. 

  • Carrie Lam as a puppet of the Beijing regime

In order to please the Chinese regime, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, forcibly closed the last independent mainstream media, Apple Daily, and is censoring public media group RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong).

  • CGTN continues to spread propaganda around the world

Chinese state-owned audiovisual group CGTN continues to broadcast regime propaganda worldwide, despite losing its licence in the United Kingdom in 2021 after airing multiple self-confessions, including those of publisher Gui Minhai and ex-journalist 
Peter Humphrey.

  • Embassies used as a tool against freedom of information

Chinese diplomatic missions are also a source of pressure against information freedom in democracies. Infamous for his diatribes against the media, China’s ambassador in Paris, Lu Shaye, is a repeat offender who regularly insults and attacks independent journalists.

In a previous report, published in 2019 and entitled China's Pursuit of a New World Media Order, RSF demonstrated how Beijing tries to put an end to the role of journalism and instead make it a tool at the service of state propaganda. 

The People's Republic of China ranks 177th out of 180 in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index, only two spots above North Korea. The special administrative region of Hong Kong, once a bastion of press freedom, has slipped from 18th place, upon the index’s creation in 2002, to 80th place in 2021.

All other language versions of the report will be available on 24th January, 2022, ten days before the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in China (Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and German).

Read the report

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Updated on 31.01.2022