China has used the coronavirus pandemic to create more restrictions for the foreign press
China increased restrictions for the foreign press amid the coronavirus pandemic and denied access for foreign journalists to certain areas, notably in Xinjiang, even though they remained open to other people, according to a press group.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said in a report that one out of six correspondents reported being forced to live and work in China on a series of short visas of between one and three months in duration while some Chinese tourist visas last longer than that. “China has used the coronavirus pandemic to create more restrictions for the foreign press — restrictions that exceed those for everyone else. 21 per cent said they were locked out last year, and journalists remain the one group of resident permits holders still barred from entering China,” the FCCC report said.
The pandemic allowed China an opportunity to create more restrictions for foreign press in the name of public health, the report stated based on a survey of FCCC members.
“Authorities cited health concerns to deny access for foreign journalists to certain areas, notably in Xinjiang, even though they remained open to other people, both foreign and Chinese. Significant pressure was exerted on foreign journalists and sources seeking to report on the pandemic itself,” the report said.
In some cases, Chinese officials gave journalists a choice: Leave instantly or be quarantined for at least 14 days. In other cases, journalists were forced to take repeated Covid-19 tests, a delay tactic to prevent them from working.
The respondents described exchanges during this approval process in which Chinese authorities hinted that permission to return hinged on more favourable coverage of China. The press group further said the Chinese government propaganda is claiming that the coronavirus originated abroad and was brought into China.
“As a result, fears that foreigners pose dangerous health risks have subjected correspondents to growing xenophobia, making it more challenging for them to live and work in China,” the report added.
Furthermore, the introduction of mandatory coronavirus checkpoints and contact tracing apps has created more opportunities for Chinese authorities to gather data on foreign journalists and their sources.