Shooting the messenger: PRC’s tryst with information and its control

IITM CSC Article #25
9 May 2012

Shooting the messenger: PRC’s tryst with information and its control


The Chinese government has rejected the visa renewal of an Al-Jazeera journalist, Melissa Chan, an American citizen who has been reporting from Beijing for the last five years. As has been reported by The Guardian, this action of the Chinese government puts a major question on the working of foreign journalists in China. The foreign ministry in China has not provided any reason for the expulsion of Chan. This further highlights the fact that since 2009 around twenty-eight permanent posting or media trips to China have been cancelled. China’s stand is on expected lines, as it has been reported that, “Melissa Chan was known for hard-hitting reporting on issues like illegal jails and the annual anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre of democracy protestors”.

The Chinese government has perceived domestic media to be a ‘mouthpiece’ of the party and the government. The media in China, though economically free and competitive, is highly controlled when it comes to the kind and type of news, which it is permitted to publish. Even though there has been a boom in the number of media houses in China, the government has managed to keep strict control over the content of these publications. It has undertaken strong measures to punish the reporters or journalists who do not follow the guidelines of the Propaganda Department. Mostly such journalists lose their jobs or are jailed on grounds unrelated to their work.

However one major problem, which the Chinese government faces, is that with the reform and integration of the Chinese economy with the international markets, many international media houses are opening offices in China. This development puts the Chinese government in a fix. Till date Beijing had followed the policy of managing and regulating the flow of information to the outside world, but with the presence of these journalists it is becoming tougher for it to control the flow of information from China. It seems that the Chinese government has decided to use its ‘authority to issue visas’ to control the level of presence of these journalists in China. The Party appears to be too concerned about the kind of information which gets transferred outside even as it’s worries about domestic stability continue.

Melissa Chan has been reporting on issues, which the Chinese government considers sensitive. The Chinese journalists would not have been allowed to report about these events. However, these developments highlight the fact that it is not only the Chinese journalists who face major restrictions while reporting on China; the situation has implication for foreign correspondents as well. Martin Patience of BBC argues “this move will be viewed as an attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate foreign media operating in the country”. The general perception amongst the international observers is that this decision comes at a time when China is on the verge of an important development; the leadership transition. Secondly, this also follows two very crucial developments within China which have gained incomparable international attention. First, was the sacking of Bo Xilai and second, were the developments, that followed the activist Chen Guangcheng and his six-day stay in the US embassy. In both the cases of Bo Xilai and Chen Guangcheng, the domestic media did not have the freedom to report beyond the prescribed limits; however it was the foreign journalists and reporters who were seen to be more active. It is evident that the PRC is highly concerned about the domestic situation and is worried that international reporting may harm peace and stability within the country.

The control of information is a major requirement for the continued dominance of the CCP, which helps it keep the negative developments outside the purview of public debate. These reports questioned the credibility and legitimacy of the party to rule by highlighting the negative aspects with regard to corruption and human rights violations. It is a classic case of shooting the messenger.



Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
Friday, October 16, 2015 - 15:15
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