October 27, 2021 5:56:48 pm
In recent weeks, the Chinese government has revealed new plans to consolidate its control over the media landscape in China. On October 8, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees the country’s social and economic policies, released the “2021 Negative List of Market Access” and stated that “non-public capital” can’t invest in the establishment and operation of news organizations.
The scope of this proposed ban includes news agencies, newspapers, radio and television broadcasters and online news. The document further suggested that private capital can’t be involved with publishing news produced by foreign entities.
Then on October 20, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) updated the list of media outlets that websites in China can republish, and one of the most prominent financial media, Caixin, was removed from the list. Known for its investigative reporting, many viewed Caixin as an example of independent media amid the growing crackdown on press freedom since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power.
However, some interpret the move as another blow to China’s fragile press freedom, while others think the removal has a limited impact on Caixin’s day-to-day operation. David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project (CMP) at the University of Hong Kong, wrote in a post on CMP’s website that the exclusion of Caixin from the list is “indicative of the [Chinese Communist] Party’s continued consolidation of control over the upstream and downstream distribution of news and information in China.
Bandurksi also notes much of Caixin’s content is behind a paywall, which is an attempt to prevent its content from being republished without its permission.
Yaqiu Wang, China Researcher for Human Rights Watch, agrees that it is hard to determine the actual impact of the exclusion from the list on Caixin since the outlet was already trying to prevent its content from being republished too easily. However, she thinks the move still reflects the seriousness of the Chinese government’s crackdown on the media landscape.
“What we can see is that the Chinese government’s control over media is becoming stronger, and that will gradually eliminate the rational voices, leaving the internet with either propaganda or nationalistic sentiments,” she told DW.
Wang underlines another negative impact that might come with a more controlled media environment in China: the outside world’s limited understanding of the country. “The outside world is relying more on what they see online rather than their personal experience or human interaction,” she said. “Information online could be one-sided or not reflective of the real voices of the Chinese people.”
“A society without journalism and accountability”
Recent developments in the Chinese media landscape have also made others worry that Beijing is eliminating anything that contradicts the official narrative. Cedric Alviani, the head of Reporter Without Borders’ East Asia Office, says Caixin’s exclusion shows the red line for reporting is becoming tighter.
“Very soon, it won’t be possible for any media in China to report anything other than the official narrative released by the government,” he told DW. “It’s getting harder for foreign correspondents in China to access reports on what the government considers as sensitive issues.”
Additionally, he thinks Beijing’s proposal to ban private capital from investing in media organizations will turn the right to operate media outlets into a “privilege” that only belongs to the Chinese government. “One day, it wouldn’t be possible for individuals to report information and this is really concerning,” Alviani said. “The Chinese regime is building a society without journalism and accountability.”
Even though the Chinese government is trying to strengthen its control over the media, Alviani thinks Chinese people still have huge demands for independent information. “There is a huge demand because the Chinese public is just like the public in every country,” he told DW. “They want to know the facts happening around them.”
And while some journalists in China are still trying to focus on sensitive topics like human rights violations and corruption, Alviani thinks the cost for conducting these reports has also become higher for them. “There are 122 journalists or press freedom defenders detained in China,” he said.
“This is not counting the hundreds of thousands of journalists who are being intimidated or have to abide by the notices issued by the government. The space for them to publish is getting smaller and smaller. Now the problem is not just that it is forbidden to report (on certaint topics, it’s also forbidden to forward information to an average person,” Alviani added.
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