Over the past decade, the Chinese government has strengthened its effort in tightening media censorship in foreign countries, trying to use the propaganda machine targeting the overseas diaspora. As the Chinese government increasingly flexes its media censorship muscles, overseas Chinese media that dares to put China under scrutiny faces the looming threat of financial backlash, and a host of other obstacles in practising journalism.
Chinese government’s effort has raised eyebrows of mainstream media. In 2013, Sarah Cook, Freedom House research analyst published her research report, “The Long shadow of Chinese censorship: How Chinese media restrictions affect news outlets around the world,” revealing the China Factor had existed in the newsroom around the world.
As China’s economy grows into the second largest in the world, the Chinese government has increasingly exerted its influences and extended its censorship tentacles in overseas media. A few weeks ago, the Globe published a report revealing that a Chinese writer lost his column in Global Chinese Press, after the paper was pressured over his criticism of Mr. Wang Yi -- who lashed out at a Canadian reporter for asking question about human rights issue in China -- and Mr. Michael Chan, the Ontario cabinet Minister who defended China’s human rights record.
A year ago, the editor in chief of a Chinese paper in Toronto was allegedly fired for publishing articles criticizing Chan.
“China’s influence has grown stronger and stronger in recent years,” Jack Jia, publisher of this paper, said in an interview with the Times. “They want to control everything.”
Before PM Trudeau started his week-long official visit to China, New York Times published an article “Chinese Canadians fear China’s rising clout is muzzling them” shedding light on how the growing influence of the authoritarian government has created a culture of fear in the overseas media, threatening to erode the Canadian value of free speech.
The article interviewed Chinese language journalists and media executives in the community – including Jia, who believes that the economic pressure has led to the prevalent self-censorship in the media outlets, most of them appearing to avoid reporting that would anger China’s leaders altogether.
Chinese News was shut out from press conferences and annual gala held by the Chinese Consulate in Toronto, after it had raised tough questions about the sensitive and controversial issues over Tibetan and XinJiang.
“They use the body language to tell us that we are not welcome,” said Jia in an interview with AM640 talk show on Trudeau’s visit to China on Tuesday.
Despite the pressure, Chinese News is among a few media outlets in the Toronto Chinese community that has remained outspoken about China, for which the paper has received heated response from the community readers. Apart from objections from some hated comments, there are warnings about the financial fallouts of its reporting on China that may threaten the papers’ bottom line.
“The Chinese government wants absolute loyalty and demands overseas media deference, and any negative reporting may get your paper into trouble… There might be boycott from pro-Beijing advertising agencies that intentionally do not choose your paper to advertise,” warned one of the readers.
But Chinese News has refused to be silenced and is adamant about upholding Canadian values of free speech. It published an article by the editorial board last week “why Chinese News believes in critical journalism”, clearly expressing its desires to serve and influence the public by holding itself to the highest journalist standard.
And the Canadian government has also expressed its strong stance in upholding the value of free speech. Asked by the Times about complaints that Beijing was putting pressure on Chinese Canadians, Mr. Dion says he and Mr. Trudeau were very strongly against any attempt to muzzle public opinion in Canada. But amid the growing fear of China’s clout and the challenges faced by the Chinese community media, it remains to be seen what steps the government will take to support ethnic media outlets that have refused to be muzzled.
“We want them not to talk the talk, but also walk the walk,” said Jia.
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