This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
As part of an annual vetting and review process targeting journalists in state-owned and approved media organizations, Chinese journalists will have their social media posts included in their press card renewal process.
“In order to thoroughly implement General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important thoughts on propaganda and ideological work, and build a team of journalists who are politically strong, capable, realistic, and innovative, and capable of winning battles … annual press card renewals are now under way,” the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) said in a statement on its website on Jan. 19.
Provincial GAPP branches are now required to review a new-generation press card issued to officially approved journalists working in print, online news, TV, radio, film studios, and financial information centers since December 2019, the directive said.
News organizations that hire unlicensed journalists are subject to penalties, and are also required to consider their employees’ use of social media.
They must consider “issues relating to the use of Weibo, WeChat, and other media and publishing without authorization in their capacity as a reporter,” the directive said.
Review processes must also examine corruption in the industry, including blackmail and paid-for content.
Beijing-based journalist Wang Liang said the move appears to target the practice of posting news that didn’t make it past the censors to personal social media accounts, giving the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) even greater control over the information that reaches the general public.
“Many reporters can’t write what they want in the mainstream media, so they post it to Weibo and WeChat instead,” Wang said. “This is about the [government’s] need to control public speech.”
“Journalists belong to a profession that has a little more of a voice than ordinary people do in China, so they are placing tight controls not just on journalists’ work, but on their private speech as well,” he said.
Wang said the directive merely codifies a practice that has already been under way for some time.
“There have already been some journalists whose social media posts and private speech have been taken into account in their assessments, so they are basically making it a formal procedure,” he said.
Even more control
Guangzhou-based rights activist Wang Aizhong said the move will give the CCP even more control over information that reaches the general public.
“This is obviously an extension of existing media controls,” Wang said. “They didn’t try to control social media posts by reporters before this, so reporters were able to publish some content.”
“Now, the controls extend into the private social media activity of journalists, which I fear will make total their control over the flow of information,” she said.
Earlier this month, authorities in China’s Guizhou and Jiangsu provinces jailed two journalists and one family member after they were critical of the CCP.
On Jan. 8, the Nanming District People’s Court in Guizhou’s provincial capital, Guiyang, jailed former journalist Zhang Jialong for 18 months after finding him guilty of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
The case against him was built on allegations that he had retweeted or liked tweets critical of the government on Twitter, including tweets about the Hong Kong protest movement.
And on Jan. 7, the Pizhou Municipal People’s Court in the eastern province of Jiangsu jailed journalist Li Xinde for five years after finding him guilty of “illegal business activity.” Li’s son Li Chao was handed a one-year jail term at the same time.
Li was first detained by police in October 2019 and placed in “residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL),” not long after he published a claim that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.
China was among the world’s biggest jailers of journalists in 2020, continuing a pattern of total state control over the media begun under Xi, with more than 100 journalists and bloggers currently behind bars, according to the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).