China’s investigative journalists are silenced under Xi | 2019-07-15

China’s investigative journalists are silenced under Xi

15 July, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BEIJING: She was once one of China’s most feared journalists, roaming the country uncovering stories about police brutality, wrongful convictions and environmental disasters. But these days, Zhang Wenmin struggles to be heard, reports New York Times.

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.”China’s investigative reporters  once provided rare voices of accountability and criticism in a society tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, exposing scandals about babies sickened by tainted formula and blood-selling schemes backed by the government.

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, filled instead with upbeat portrayals of life in China under Xi. Critics call it the “total censorship era.”

“We’re almost extinct,” said Liu Hu, 43, a reporter from the southwestern province of Sichuan who was detained for nearly a year after investigating corrupt politicians. “No one is left to reveal the truth.” Since rising to power in 2012, 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.”

Xi’s crackdown on journalists has left China, with its nearly 1.4 billion people, in what sometimes seems like an information vacuum. At a time when world leaders are asking what kind of superpower China will be, public discourse within the country is remarkably monolithic. Instead of policy debates, there are calls in the Chinese press to defend China’s socialist system. Instead of scrutiny of Chinese leaders and institutions, there are paeans to Mr. Xi and the party. “The government has made its citizens ignorant,” Mr. Liu said. “The public’s eyes are blind, their ears are deaf and their mouths have no words.”

When President Trump criticizes China, his words rarely appear in the mainstream Chinese press. 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 United States, the #MeToo movement, gene-edited babies and the spread of African swine fever.