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Asia

Media watchdog sees gloomy prospect for press freedom in China

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says Beijing hasn't kept its promise to gradually relax restrictions set before the 2008 Olympics.

Censorship in China today is as present as it ever has been, according to an IFJ annual report

Censorship in China today is as present as it ever has been, according to an IFJ annual report

The IFJ says space for press freedom in mainland China is getting narrower and called on Beijing to cease media censorship. Published at a recent news conference in Hong Kong, its new report lists 88 restrictive orders issued by the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department or provincial propaganda authorities last year.

IFJ project co-ordinator for Hong Kong and China, Serenade Woo, pointed out that these 88 cases were only the tip of the iceberg. She told Deutsche Welle, "in the past year, the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department kept issuing restrictive orders or warnings, which means it ordered the Chinese media to report 'selectively' and instructed them how to report. Early last year, premier Wen Jiabao released a positive signal for journalists. He said journalists also had a role in overseeing the society. But despite Wen’s encouraging words, since then no changes can be observed."

For years rights groups have been calling on Beijing to stop censoring Chinese media

For years rights groups have been calling on Beijing to stop censoring Chinese media

Woo added that the IFJ had sent hundreds of letters to the Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao as well as other government officials. However, they have yet to reply and there have been no signs of improvement in the freedom of press in mainland China.

Disturbing trends in Hong Kong

As for the press situation in Hong Kong, Woo was not optimistic either. She said the Hong Kong government’s attitude towards media is not as open as before; that "nowadays the government has prioritized 'friendly' media in terms of information update." The government has held about a dozen 'closed-door briefings', rather than formal press conferences, according to Woo. "Every briefing was about policies related to public interests. As the journalists who attended these briefings told us, the government officials never answered their questions properly, and they requested the journalists not to disclose their names but to refer to them as 'a government spokesperson'. Why should the government apply this way to voice its opinions? We’re afraid they treat the media as a tool and put them in a dangerous position."

Newspaper readers in China can not rely on independent, uncensored reporting

Newspaper readers in China can not rely on independent, uncensored reporting

The International Federation of Journalists is the world’s largest organization of journalists, with around 600,000 members in more than 100 countries. It aims to promote international action to defend press freedom and social justice through strong, free and independent journalist trade unions. The IFJ has urged Beijing to gradually relax restrictions on the media as it promised before hosting the Olympics in 2008. As for Hong Kong, the government should adopt another way to deliver messages to journalists instead of "closed-door briefings." Relevant terms of the Basic Law should be amended in order to protect press freedom.

Author: Miriam Wong
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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