China’s New Press Restrictions – ChinaFile
I am part of a new ChinaFile debate here in which I argue that China is forcing brave journalists into more self censorship. My section reads:
For much of the last two and a half decades, Chinese journalists have been pushing the boundaries—many going into grey areas, others stepping boldly into danger zones, others yet going into forbidden areas and getting punished for it. Chinese journalism, both domestic and international, is much the better for this bravery.
International news bureaus, whose Chinese-national staff in the 1990s and before were limited to translating, making appointments, and the occasional nudge and wink about deeper stories, now have bureau “assistants” who are full correspondents in all but title and official recognition. Some get bylines, some go on to full journalistic careers outside of China’s borders. But all this has been done outside of the regulations and with the tacit acceptance if not approval of the authorities.
Chinese domestic publications like Caijing, Caixin, Southern Weekly and others have pushed reporting far beyond what the state news agency Xinhua or the official People’s Daily would ever do. What was once a monolithic press is now full of diversity, and full of bravery.
Yet the Sword of Damocles has always hung over these brave reporters’ and editors’ heads.
What is not approved can always be punished. What is not in the regulations can always be stopped.
And sometimes it was.
“Assistants” were called in for “chats”. Reporters or editors lost their positions. Others who allegedly violated China’s vague but draconian secrecy laws faced criminal sanctions.
So why the new regulations? Why fray the threads on the hanging sword to make the sense of danger all the more imminent?
Certainly many things in the last 18 months have become much tighter in China and the restrictions on reporting and expression much stronger. What these new announcements will do will make the sense of doom ever more present, and make self-censorship seem ever more necessary. Faced with the loss of profession, livelihood, or freedom, only the bravest journalists will continue to push the boundaries. Most will retreat. Most will wait to see how the regulations are actually used. Most will pull back from the reporting and the transparency that a modern society needs.
That Beijing felt this chill was necessary is testament to how brave and pioneering Chinese journalism has become. But it is also a sad reminder of the risks journalists have taken and will continue to take if they try to shed light on their society.