Reporting conditions for foreign correspondents in China have improved since end of Covid restrictions

Media Freedoms Report from foreign correspondents’ club finds obstruction and harassment remains widespread

Reporting conditions for foreign correspondents in China have improved since the end of zero-Covid restrictions but obstruction and harassment remains widespread, according to a new report. Four out of five correspondents said they experienced interference, harassment or violence during the course of their work last year, and more than half were obstructed by police at least once.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s (FCCC) annual Media Freedoms Report found that most foreign journalists believed that the authorities were monitoring their electronic communications. More than one in three said that sources had cancelled interviews following official pressure.

“It’s an endless cat and mouse game. Whatever strategy you try, the Chinese surveillance and security system adapts and closes the gap. Whatever strategies you use the space for reporting keeps getting smaller and smaller,” a reporter for one European newspaper told the FCCC.

The report expresses concern at a rise in reported incidents of intimidation of Chinese employees of foreign news bureaus. Locally-employed Chinese staff play an essential role in the work of most foreign correspondents but without the protection of a foreign passport they are more vulnerable to state pressure.


“From regular police visits to late night phone calls from the authorities to compulsory visits to police stations and intimidation of family members: the tactics deployed vary widely. In multiple cases parents of new hires were pressured by local police to have their daughter or son not take the job,” the report says.

Journalists reported most disruption when they were reporting from areas viewed as politically sensitive, with 85 per cent of those who tried to report from Xinjiang province experiencing problems. Most of those who tried to report from areas near China’s borders with Mongolia, Russia or southeast Asian countries also reported problems.

The FCCC notes that the obstruction of foreign correspondents’ reporting is in contravention to China’s own laws. Foreign journalists are, according to China’s own regulations, free to report on a wide range of topics and speak to whomever they want.

Founded in 1981, the FCCC represents journalists in China from more than 30 countries but most of its members are from western Europe and the US. The report acknowledged some improvements over 2022, including the fact that almost all resident foreign correspondents received a visa renewal for a full year.

News organisations continue to face difficulties in receiving visas for new correspondents, and many bureaus remain seriously understaffed following the end of the pandemic.

“The result is coverage of China that cannot fully capture its massively complex dynamics. Perhaps the Chinese state believes limiting foreign news organisations in their numbers and reporting capacity will result in outlets telling the Chin story from a more superficially positive angle. The FCCC believes the opposite is true,” the report says.

“Correspondents, restricted in where they can travel and with whom they can speak, no longer have the luxury of delving deeply into topics and painting a nuanced picture of the country. The result is coverage of China that is narrower in scope and less representative, more focused on geopolitics and bilateral relations than the lived experiences of the Chinese people.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times