Continuing the Discussion: Censorship in China: Who Watches the Media Watchers?

EMILY WALZ
ASSISTANT EDITOR AT SAIS NANJING

In light of recent accusations leveled at Bloomberg News over the alleged decision to withhold investigative pieces tying the country’s wealthiest to its top leaders have journalists, China-watchers and businessmen alike worried over China’s increasing intimidation of outlets to shelve unflattering pieces and punish those who do.

But what is also concerning is the potential impact of self-censorship of foreign news media on the news landscape. When even foreign news media can be coerced into staying silent, local news media and its employees continue to face a more daunting scenario.

In this situation, a vacuum forms, with no one reporting the stories that risk running afoul of government policy. While there is plenty of China content in the internet age, the argument is that only major news organizations have the funding and resources necessary to undertake lengthy investigative pieces, which with local news media bound and foreign media bowing to political pressure, may be in danger of disappearing.

The Chinese government is apparently concerned more foreign news media stories are leaking into China, even when the websites (like The New York Times) remain blocked on the mainland, or in the case of some other outlets, when sensitive articles are filtered out of domestic searches. As China looks for more ways to wield soft power, reports of pressure on websites, reporters, and bureaus abroad to remove offending content have increased, though the leverage China has outside its borders is somewhat diminished.

Undoubtedly, it is a sticky situation for a foreign media bureau, and particularly for Bloomberg, which operates a financial terminal service.

After last year’s exposé on Xi Jinping’s personal wealth which angered the Chinese government, not only was the website blocked, but subscriptions to the terminal slowed amid rumors that the government had ordered state-owned enterprises not to buy.

On the other hand, those who have purchased subscriptions are not happy about Bloomberg holding back information, especially information that could be influential in their business decisions, and others are speculating that Bloomberg’s attempts to curry favor with the Chinese government are coming ahead of an expansion of its financial arm and a simultaneous downsizing of its news branch.

At stake is the news organization’s reputation, which is why Bloomberg has understandably been unhappy with the coverage, and responded to say that the accusations are false and that those investigative pieces are still active stories, though they have yet to run.

One of the stories at the center of the Bloomberg controversy was reported to concern foreign banks hiring the children of Chinese officials. In the mean time, The New York Times has run its own story on an investigation into JP Morgan’s potentially illegal hiring practices, including their contract with a small consulting firm run by the daughter of former premier Wen Jiabao, and Bloomberg has reportedly suspended the reporter believed responsible for leaking the news about withholding sensitive stories.