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China’s Censors Hit Foreign Media

Submitted by on October 25 – 2013No Comment

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on the newest study published by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), which examines the far-reaching scope of the Chinese government’s impact on foreign-based media over the last five years. Authored by Freedom House senior research analyst Sarah Cook, The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship: How the Communist Party’s Media Restrictions Affect News Outlets Around the World details the inconspicuous to blatant methods the Chinese government uses to shape or inhibit independent and overseas coverage of China. Namely, Cook’s report illustrates the incidents involving mainstream U.S. and international media, regional news outlets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and uncensored exile media targeting Chinese-speaking audiences inside and outside China.

I had the fortunate opportunity of interning over the summer and into the fall for Cook at Freedom House. Among my assignments, I conducted research for the CIMA project, specifically on China’s leverage over Western elite media such as the New York Times, Bloomberg News, and the Washington Post. Our investigation made clear that even major news outlets abroad are not impervious to the strong arm of Beijing officials.

The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship sets forth several examples of tactics the Chinese authorities employ to retaliate against, control, or prohibit independent outlets in the West from disseminating information considered politically or socially touchy. The methods range from harassing foreign journalists to attempts to induce self-censorship by mainstream international media. Bloomberg and the New York Times are two examples of elite U.S. news outlets included in the report.

censored-in-chinaBloomberg and the New York Times, against Chinese officials’ explicit demands, disclosed in 2012 the amassed financial wealth of relatives of, respectively, incumbent and then vice president Xi Jinping and then Premier Wen Jiabao. Prior to the revelations, Beijing applied pressure through meetings between Chinese officials and corporate executives in an effort to prevent the outlets from publishing the investigative pieces. Bloomberg and the New York Times nevertheless moved forward with their exposés. Immediately thereafter, Bloomberg’s website and both the New York Times’ English and Chinese-language sites were completely blocked in China. Keeping in mind China’s market share of the world’s netizens, i.e., over half a billion people, the aforementioned reprisal is a considerably unfavorable one for shareholders and others with financial interests in the companies.

The repercussions and economic ramifications extended beyond removing access to China’s Internet users. For Bloomberg, threats to the sales of its financial data terminals accompanied the website block. On the same day as the website blackout, the New York Times experienced a considerable drop in its stock price. Moreover, both media outlets suffered a series of cyberattacks in the ensuing months, which included hackers from China infiltrating internal networks containing the personal information of journalists. To read further or for more details on the Bloomberg and New York Times incidents, click here to access Cook’s CIMA report.

by Jeannie Cho, staff columnist

The author’s Note for the Fordham International Law Journal examined China’s repatriation policy regarding North Korean migrants (forthcoming publication 2013), and she is editing a report for the Leitner Center on the same issue. She will be writing a series of Op-Eds on North Korea and China for The Record.  Her first was a response to Robert’s Baer’s TIME article on North Korea. Read it here.

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