China’s independent journalists struggle to be heard

Crackdown under President Xi has left the press entirely devoid of critical reporting, with many topics being off limits
She was once one of China’s best journalists, roaming the country uncovering stories about police brutality, wrongful convictions and environmental disasters. But these days, Zhang Wenmin struggles to be heard. The police intimidate Ms. Zhang’s sources. The authorities shut down her social media accounts. Unable to find news outlets that will publish her work, she lives largely off her savings. “The space for free speech has become so limited,” Ms. Zhang, 45, said. “It’s now dangerous to say you are an independent journalist.”
But under President Xi Jinping, such journalists have all but disappeared, as the authorities have harassed and imprisoned dozens of reporters and as news outlets have cut back on in-depth reporting. One of the most glaring consequences of Mr. Xi’s revival of strongman politics is that the Chinese press is now almost entirely devoid of critical reporting. Critics call it the “total censorship era.”  Since rising to power in 2012, Mr. Xi has transformed China’s media landscape, restoring the primacy of party-controlled news outlets while silencing independent voices. He has said that the mission of the news media should be to spread “positive energy” and to “love the party, protect the party and serve the party.” Mr. Xi’s crackdown on journalists has left China in what sometimes seems like an information vacuum. A rapidly expanding list of topics is off limits to all but the party’s main official media outlets, among them the trade war with the U.S., the #MeToo movement, gene-edited babies and the spread of African swine fever. Before Mr. Xi took control, Chinese journalism had entered something of a golden age, with reporters publishing investigations about faulty vaccines and shoddy buildings toppled by earthquakes. But under Mr. Xi’s rule, harassment of journalists has worsened. At least 48 journalists were in prison in China as of December, more than in any other country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Despite the political climate, a small group of investigative journalists are fighting to keep their profession alive, publishing stories on social media and overseas outlets. Mr. Liu continues to investigate serial killers and problems in the justice system, often under a pen name. The best journalists are persistent and aware of the risks of the job, he said. “Outside of China, journalists are fired for writing false reports,” he said. “Inside China, they are fired for telling the truth.”NY Times

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