According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) China jails the largest number of journalists in the world. RSF warns against complacency towards China’s continued abuse of press freedom, suggesting that other authoritarian countries across Asia are looking at Beijing as a model for managing their own press.
In 2018 China has been ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, published annually by RSF. The index evaluates countries on the basis of journalistic freedom and government censorship. Behind China on the list are only the likes of Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.
During the launch presentation of the index in Washington D.C. Margaux Ewen, the North America Executive Director for RSF, stated that “China is the biggest prison in the world for both professional and non-professional journalists.”
China’s communist party exercises tight control over both state and privately owned media outlets. Foreign reporters are also encountering increasing difficulties, being followed, roughed up, and threatened with expulsion. The RSF iterated that the seriousness of this threat can not be overstated, with more than 50 Chinese journalists currently detained in prisons. This can represent a serious threat to the lives of these journalists, as shown by the deaths of two imprisoned bloggers last year due to untreated cancer while in detention.
More serious still, the censorship and oppression is not limited to official media. Tough internet regulations mean that Chinese citizens can be jailed for comments that they make on news items, for sharing news items of which the government does not approve, for their social media content, and even content shared through messaging service.
The seriousness of the threat of the Chinese regime to journalists and journalistic freedom extends beyond the country’s borders with the RSF suggesting that “exploitation of authoritarian model of information” could easily be exported to other areas of the Asia-Pacific. The RSF notes that Cambodia and Vietnam have already begun to emulate the Chinese model. Cambodia closed more than 30 media outlets in 2017.
In contrast, the highest ranking Asian country on the index is Taiwan, ranked 42nd in 2018, climbing three places from the previous year. Unsurprisingly the greatest threat to Taiwanese media noted in the index comes from growing economic and political pressure from China.