25/09/2019 5:49 PM IST

China Just Outdid Itself In Attacking Press Freedom And It's Worrisome

Thousands of journalists in Chinese state media will be tested on their "loyalty" to President Xi Jinping.

POOL New / Reuters
File image of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China’s record in press freedom and censorship of the media has always been sketchy, with Beijing ranked at 177 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But recent reports coming out of China that journalists will soon be tested on their loyalty to President Xi Jinping paint an even bleaker picture of media clampdown. 

South China Morning Post, which was one of the first outlets to report the news, said last week that thousands of reporters and editors working in Chinese state media will have to sit for an exam to test their loyalty to Xi Jinping. Citing a notice from the media oversight office of the Communist Party’s propaganda department, the report said that some will be asked to take part in “pilot tests” in October before the exams are held nationwide. 

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Journalists have been instructed to prepare to take an exam on the “study Xi” propaganda app, The Guardian said in a report. The press credentials would only be renewed after they pass the test. 

The exam will be divided into five parts —two sections will be on Xi Jinping’s teachings on socialism for the new era and his “important thoughts on propaganda”—The Guardian cited Media Reform, a self-published news account on WeChat, as saying. 

Steven Butler, the coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia Program, told HuffPost India that “giving a political loyalty test to a journalist just means that factual reporting will take second place to pleasing China’s communist rulers”.

Several Twitter users have also expressed concerns about China’s move:

Others are also pointing to China’s low rating in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. 

According to a 2019 list by Committee to Protect Journalists, China is one of the 10 most censored countries. The report said the country has been among the “world’s top jailers of journalists”, with at least 47 behind bars as of 1 December, 2018. 

Internet users, CPJ said, are blocked from foreign search engines, news websites, and social media platforms by the Great Firewall. 

Foreign journalists in China and Chinese reporters have complained of intimidation and encountering obstacles while working. China’s investigative reporters, as The New York Times reported, have all but disappeared under Xi Jinping’s rule as authorities harass and imprison reporters. 

Xi Jinping, the report said, has transformed China’s media landscape. He has restored the primacy of party-controlled news outlets while silencing independent voices.

Meanwhile, foreign journalists have reported being beaten, detained and harassed in China, as AFP points out. Citing a 2018 report by Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, AFP said that half of over 100 correspondents were subjected to interference in 2017 while trying to gather information. 

A report by Reporters Without Borders also looks at how Beijing is trying to control information beyond its borders. This project poses a threat to press freedom all over the world, the report said while adding that the strategies include “modernizing its international TV broadcasting, buying extensive amounts of advertising in international media, infiltrating foreign media and also employing blackmail, intimidation and harassment on a massive scale”.