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Selasa, 08 September 2020

China's foreign journalists face 'constant threat of expulsion' amid growing diplomatic spat, experts say - ABC News

Foreign media has become the latest casualty in what experts and a China foreign correspondent say are President Xi Jinping's efforts to strengthen "control on Chinese society".

Bill Birtles, the ABC's correspondent based in Beijing, and the Australian Financial Review's Mike Smith, based in Shanghai, are the latest foreign journalists forced to leave China alongside at least 19 others this year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

China currently ranks 177 out of 180 countries on the RFS world press freedom index — only Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea are ranked lower.

"In the past few years, the Xi Jinping regime has consistently tried to reduce the space for independent journalism in China," Cedric Alviani, RSF's East Asia bureau head, said.

"There has been a consistent harassment on foreign correspondents … This harassment includes threatening other journalists and their sources, monitoring the journalist's conversations, following them in the streets and also threatening to not renew their visa."

Expelling foreign journalist cuts 'key avenue of understanding'

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The ABC's China correspondent left China after seeking refuge from Chinese authorities in Australia's Beijing embassy.

For the first time since mid-1970s, there are no accredited Australian media journalists based in China.

Will Glasgow from The Australian, who was based in Beijing, is also out of the country and China has not issued new visas for journalists from the ABC and Nine Newspapers.

Chris Buckley, a veteran Australian reporter for the New York Times left Beijing in May when his visa expired and was not renewed after 24 years of reporting from the country.

Chris Buckley sitting in his office with the New York Times branding on the wall
Chris Buckley has been working as a translator, researcher and reporter in China for more than two decades.(ABC News: Cecily Huang)

"Over the past few years in particular, the [Chinese] Government has been strengthening control on Chinese society as a whole, on the internet on speech in general, and that's the consequences for how foreign journalists work in China," Buckley told the ABC.

"It's a country going through extraordinary changes that needs to be reported.

Fergus Hanson from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told the ABC the expulsion of foreign journalists effectively cuts off "a key avenue of understanding and communication between two countries".

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He said it was almost a "prerequisite for any kind of basic relationship" to allow journalists from each other's countries to freely report back.

Buckley's departure from China comes after another Australian working for US media, Phillip Wen of the Wall Street Journal, was expelled in February along with two colleagues.

A number of American journalists working at the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post were also expelled from China earlier this year in response to the Trump administration's visa restrictions on journalists working for Chinese state media outlets in the country.

The New York Times reports that the extension of American journalist visas is dependent on whether Washington renews the visas of Chinese journalists in the US.

The report said China's actions had also affected CNN, Bloomberg News and Getty Images, whose journalists were not able to renew their press cards.

Journalists in China face 'constant threat of expulsion'

The Foreign Correspondence Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement over Twitter yesterday confirming China was using coercive practices against a number of foreign journalists.

"[The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs] has further indicated that the letters issued to foreign journalists in China could be revoked at any time, thus putting them at constant threat of expulsion," the statement said.

"The FCCC calls on the Chinese Government to halt this cycle of tit-for-tat reprisals in what is quickly becoming the darkest year yet for media freedoms."

A woman stands with her hands clasped together.
Cheng Lei has worked as an on-air anchor and reporter for CGTN for the past eight years.(Source: CGTN)

The news of Birtles' and Smith's expulsions comes after it was revealed high-profile Australian television anchor Cheng Lei, who works for the Chinese Government's English news channel CGTN, had been detained in Beijing for weeks.

The cause of her arrest is still unknown.

A statement from Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, "The Australian Government continues to provide consular support to Australian citizens detained in China, including Ms Cheng Lei."

"We are unable to provide further comment owing to privacy obligations."

Birtles holding microphone looking and talking to camera with crowd of protestors behind him.
Bill Birtles has been the ABC's China correspondent since 2015.(ABC News)

The FCCC tweeted China's efforts to keep foreign journalists against their will marks a "significant escalation of an ongoing, sustained Chinese Government assault on media freedoms."

"The FCCC denounces this extraordinary erosion of media freedoms leading foreign journalists to fear that they could be targets of China's hostage diplomacy."

According to Reporters Without Borders' China country profile, more than 100 journalists and bloggers are currently detained "in conditions that pose a threat to their lives".

"Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel peace laureate and winner of the RSF Press Freedom Prize, and Yang Tongyan, a dissident blogger, both died in 2017 from cancers that were left untreated while they were detained," the RSF said.

"Members of the public can now be jailed for the comments they leave on news items posted on social media or messaging services, or even just for sharing content."

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2020-09-08 19:02:00Z
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