Foreign Correspondents On China’s Leash


As part of it’s ceaseless effort to convince the world of the supposed legitimacy of its rule over Tibet the communist party of China manipulates and deceives foreign journalists on a daily basis. It realizes the value of exploiting international media as a conduit for its propaganda, particularly regarding issues of acute sensitivity such as Tibet and East Turkestan. To that end the Chinese regime has some extremely influential support in the form of international media organizations, many of whom have extremely cordial relations with China’s government. On the front line of journalism within China the authorities exert a draconian stranglehold over both domestic, and most certainly international media. All overseas journalists are closely monitored and are more-or-less utterly reliant upon China’s  Ministry  of Foreign Affairs. Without official sanction journalists would find it impossible to work, while the communist authorities ensure that foreign media is fed the official line at every opportunity. Censorship and disinformation are the defining features of official journalism within China  and any overseas journalist that does not follow the party line will soon find themselves unable to obtain a work visa. 

Although the Chinese government introduced in 2008 media regulations, that supposedly granted foreign journalists some improved freedom of operations, (introduced as part of a public relations exercise surrounding the Beijing Olympics) cases of state interference intimidation and censorship continue, making a mockery of any genuinely independent reportage from China.

Case Study

In February 2009 the main target of harassment was a local driver employed casually by a foreign media team. From about midnight on February 27, a journalist and a photographer working for the New York Times were detained at Maqu, Gansu Province ( a large part of this area is formed from the Tibetan Region of Amdo, that was renamed as Gansu Province following communist China’s annexation of Tibet) with their driver for 36 hours without valid explanation. The group was driving on a road south to the Gansu-Amdo (called Qinghai Province by Communist China) border about 11pm, and was stopped at a checkpoint guarded by six police. Their passports were checked, and they were not permitted to leave. About 4am, two police cars escorted them to a police compound. Only the driver was interrogated. The journalist said, “The driver later told us he was asked to describe our activities in Maqu.”

After being held for more than a day, the journalist and photographer were escorted by an official to a hotel and plane tickets were bought for them to Beijing. They were worried about their driver and suggested to the officer that they would like to accompany the driver in his car to make sure he got home safely. Suddenly, the officer pulled the driver into his own car and drove around the parking lot, interrogating the driver. The two media personnel then had to leave.

Back at the International Press Centre in Beijing on March 3, the journalist and photographer sought an explanation for their detention from Foreign Ministry officials. Two ministry employees noted an article the journalist had written the previous week from a Tibetan town in so-called Qinghai (comprised of Tibetan Regions of Amdo and Kham) They criticised the article, saying it was not “objective”. They urged the journalist to be more “objective” when reporting on sensitive political matters. The officers asked the journalist to describe details of the detention, but offered no further assistance. (Source:IFJ)


Unfettered journalism is not permissible within communist China and occupied territories such as Tibet and East Turkestan, journalists are tightly controlled through a state accreditation program, in which officially managed media tours control and influence coverage of issues. These propaganda shows are designed to guarantee that foreign journalists are only allowed to report stories which the authorities wish to receive  international coverage., even then the information available is often stage managed and fabricated.

Case Study

Following the massacre of Uyghur protests in Urumchi in July 2009 and the unrest which followed, the communist Authorities organized a media tour for foreign media crews, in stark contrast to their media strategy approach when banning reporting on the Uprisings in Tibet during 2008. A Japanese journalist, who arrived in Urumchi on July 6, said he was surprised because the troops seemed well prepared, could speak English and were willing to have their photo taken. However, another foreign journalist reported being shoved into a van and taken back to his designated hotel whenever police noticed him taking photos on the street. The most striking aspect of the management of the media during this time was the total blocking of internet connections. All journalists permitted to join the media tour to East Turkestan (so-called Xinjiang) complained that they were unable to communicate with the outside world while in Urumchi. The local communist authorities arranged for internet connections to be available at a local media centre, but the service hardly met the media teams’ needs. (Source: IFJ)

Such are the restrictions forced upon foreign correspondents working within communist China, is it any wonder media coverage of events inside China is so often uncritical and tainted with a pro-China gloss. Yet journalists are faced with a tough choice, comply with the demands of China’s Foreign Ministry or be excluded from any opportunity to get access to events such as the recent earthquake in eastern Tibet, with careers to maintain, and no doubt influenced by editorial pressures to deliver stories, reporters often produce articles that lack any critique, genuine balance or independent analysis. Too often official Chinese perspectives and propaganda terms are repeated, for a list of such phrases see HERE


China’s Ministry of Propaganda is unsleeping in its efforts to portray the occupied regions of Tibetan and East Turkestan as the supposed beneficiaries of development, revealing an imperialist and expansionist mind set in which the colonizer is presented as bringing progress to formerly backward natives. As part of its ideological onslaught the communist regime is determined to misinform the wider world that not only is China introducing so-called modernity to these occupied lands, but that they are an integral part of the so-called Motherland of China. To more effectively implement that deception and ensure maximum exposure it requires the collaboration and unquestioning support of foreign media, which shamefully appears all to willing to provide.

Later this month the Ministry For Foreign Affairs has arranged a media tour of Tibet as part of what it laughingly calls ‘Invitation to Reporting Trip to Tibet on the Tenth Anniversary of the Grand Western Development Program’. Journalists are informed there will be an opportunity to: “find out and report on the spot the locals’ livelihood, ecological environment, specialty industries, religion, culture, education and tourism in Tibet”. Not that reporters will be allowed unrestricted access to talk with Tibetans, nor report on the killings, torture, oppression of culture and violent occupation which has blighted Tibet. Any journalist stupid enough to think otherwise should note the warning which has been given to participants:  “Please be noted, all the participants are expected to stay with the team throughout the trip, halfway participation or exit would not be accepted”

What does it say of journalism that such dictatorial demands are followed without resistance, and not only that but subsequent reportage, instead of exposing the lies and censorship, dutifully reports what the communist authorities have asked of them! This latest tour to Tibet takes place between June 21 and 25, we can expect respected newspapers and agencies such as Reuters, Washington Post, LA Times, Associated Press and New York Times carrying features promoting an image of progress set against cultures undergoing great change. It is a cynical cliché that suits the propaganda purposes of China very well,  which has become arrogantly assured of a servile and complaint western media.

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