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Reporting on the ground in China…

BBC sounds music Radio podcasts hello, I'm Julian worricker, and this is the media show from BBC Radio 4 hello this we're asking how hard is it to report on the ground in China and tell the story of that country to the wider world journalists covering the recent fatal floods which included those terrifying scenes from the underground train as it filled up with water found that their presence was not always welcome other major titles including the New York Times increasingly have to rely on us is their own report as a working outside China's borders and Steve irons the observers man in Hong Kong since the 1980s said this week, but it was no longer safe for him to be there and has decided to come back to the UK so what is the situation for journalists in China and for those trying to cover the country from a far or let me introduce you to my guests I mentioned Steve vines.


Open former China correspondent for the Observer now back in the UK sharkwire is it is one of the Wall Street Journal based in Hong Kong Cedric alviani is head of the East Asian Bureau for reporters without borders and is joining us from ty1, Amy chin is China correspondent for the New York Times based in Beijing now works in Taiwan is on the line from California and mirror silver deputy director of the reuters Institute at Oxford University welcome to all of you.

Thank you for being a part of the program especially for those who are joining as antisocial hours.

Wherever you are in the world Steve I mentioned your story that makes sense to start with you working in Hong Kong since the 1980s to a pretty amazing package passage of of history.

I mention the Observer but you've worked for other outlets as well.

How how widespread is your work being read and consumed.

More recently, I've been working for the opposition.

I even Sunday time, but I did indeed come to Hong Kong with the Observer and I was working for them as well as a number of other than outlet more recently.

I've been working quite intensively both on television and radio for radio television Hong Kong which is the public broadcaster and those programs have been considerable censorship.

I was a columnist for apple daily, which was the only remaining opposition newspaper in Hong Kong that's it now been closed down so running on a very short piece of road, and that was one of the main reasons why I decided that being a journalist in Hong Kong was very high risk so high risk that would be better not to be there High Risk in what way you were running out of options you say the roads were narrowing but you talk about high-risk.

What what specifically are you talking about I mean?

Process of arresting and keeping in jail journalist has already began the process of expelling Genocide happen to be a permanent resident of alcohol.

They have been expelling permanent residence yet, but I'm confident that will start to happen and the process of making putting journalist under intense violence is very much on the way you know the words Hong Kong which used to be the safe base from which you reported on a fairs in the Chinese mainland is increasingly come to resemble the mainland itself journalism has always been a high risk occupation on the mainland and it's tragic to see it coming so in in Hong Kong we did put some of the points that that you raise their to the Chinese embassy here as yet.

We haven't heard back from them shark.

Why you're based in Hong Kong for the Wall Street Journal did you recognise?

The atmosphere that Steve has just describe their I mean.

I think a lot of foreign journalists.

I think Amy as well has no story already commented head of the Chinese state when they were putting in mainland China there is tight state control of media and obviously also take control from times of the sources that we want to talk to and I think that has been sufficient on the side of tightening gripped on a lot of areas in Hong Kong now.

I'm reporting from Hong Kong on issues.

Like or the vaccine or social issues, so I can't really speak to how it is for Hong Kong reporters to report on Hong Kong

I think better talk about what it's like to be in Hong Kong in report on mainland, China and as you do that and as you seek the voices that you need to hear to tell those stories how willing are people to to participate in the journalism that you're seeking to pursue when they know you're from an American newspaper.

So I think over the years the the group of the state has obviously tightened around a lot of institutions and experts.

Who might in a have been more willing to speak to us, but I would also say that suspicion of foreign media has increased and I think we've seen now for example with a flat spoon Samsung reporters were questioned and possibly the present but there's also a lot of people who are exposed who trained in the West who were educated in the west read a lot of Western publication and there's a lot of anger about biased or incorrect reporting so I've noticed that a lot as well, and I think it's maybe also an interesting aspect to consider.

One thing that I've always noticed before I join the Wall Street Journal which has an extensive and china borough with more than a dozen reporters covering all aspects of I was I was a correspondent for German newspaper and it was just me reporting on all of China which is which country astutely complex country and it's very difficult to switch from Cars 1 day, 2, Let's a text surveillance the next day to the education sector and then maybe something about I don't know like reverse you know and I think it's very easy to get things wrong and the mistakes sometimes get amplified then in the Chinese Arsenal to get seized upon by let's say propaganda or nationalist underlying all of this is also structural issue with a lot of mediocre.

We should actually Double Down on having more people reporting on China in more depth with more expertise.

Also language activities will explode out in a bit more detail a little later duration very interesting point some Amy you're the New York Times China correspondent base there as I was saying in Taiwan and will come out of the reasons for that in a moment, but how then do you follow, what is happening on the ground in China when you're not in China

the great question and it's something that we have been trying to work through in the year that you've been expelled from China in Taiwan you know luckily I had been in for about 8 years before we are kicked out and so over that time I was able to build up a network resources and I can still tap on talking about network and try to answer what's happening on the ground and make more of an effort to keep in touch with people but of course that is very difficult because of surveillance apps.

It's very difficult to make sure that you know if it was very sensitive to speak which is of course understanding personal safety is at risk.

There are other ways in which we can try to understand.

What is happening in China beyond what you see Underground for example some very innovative use of satellite imagery to better understand.

What is happening with the messenger.

The uyghurs in xinjiang and everything there was just honestly more difficult now.

I agree with that Holly just saying we should be doubling down on it to the region just because you're not even the smallest thing I remember a few months ago.

I was working on a story about the movie released in China and how the movie market was doing really well during pandemic in that you know it's a very non-sensitive story.

We just wanted to get a few voices and moviegoers into the story something that I would have just popped out of the office going across the street going back and run at my story but something that would have taken maybe 15 minutes has brought into a 3-hour half day or dry have to co-ordinate with my colleagues underground questions and then so it's just making you know our ability to already limited ability to cover the country comprehensive that much.

But as you say it's now sources.

It's springers presumably you're calling upon a lot as well.

We don't really know about him.


There are that many stringers in China in part because the Chinese government has become very tight about who gets the report and turning you have to have the correct visa and if you want to ring you then that's very difficult.

I'm glad you made that point because there have been several high-profile incidents recently involving Western journalists, they give the impression that foreign journalists are not welcome in China and the BBC's John sudworth left China with his family.

He says he received threats separately there were two journalists from the Los Angeles Times and Deutsche welle, who was surrounded by an angry crowd who believed? I think they were journalist from the BBC Cedric Alexander goodbye to bring you in on the conversation from reporters without borders.

How do you judge?

Welcome or otherwise foreign reporters are in China just now the situation has changed compared to the past decades was never easy country sonalyst beds in the Year 2004 foreign correspondence to lead investigations.

It was possible to have a lot of sources and oldest has disappeared and especially since president Xi Jinping got into power and crack down on independent Media independent voices now only in the year 2000 the Chinese regime has expelled 18 foreign correspondence.

This was something unheard of in the times.

I believe the reason is that the Chinese regime considers it doesn't need for ink respondents anymore in the past decades they needed for and crisp.

To somehow promoted to the Chinese economy development to promote the tennis successes and now China has a proper get that parrot in the world that is sufficient for them to promote respect and does it depend does it depends where the report of works which organisation he or she works for or is it a view across the board as far as you're aware? Yeah? It's a towbar to damage our as long as it's somija that that is independent the Chinese regime season for respondents now as unwanted Witnesses they have enough power to impact their propaganda and narrative through the Chinese international media right which Lisa's shower with more Chinese based journalist working in China and covering China at the perception of course in the west is that the main Chinese Media always toes the party line? How far is

Destiny of you so I mean, I think there are some topics where you will there's sometimes quite a bit of debate in China and then suddenly something happens and you realise the leadership has come down the line and it's communicated on works and then all the publication come out with the same party line with the same narrative.

There's actually quite a lot of the bed and I think we'll have to be aware that there are a lot of publications in China and affiliated to different departments different Ministries and they might actually take different views on certain issues iPhone cover climate, and I think some of my reporting a shame that you know the environmental ministry.

Necessarily agree with the economy cleaners or the energy administration the other thing I would says and I think Amy most probably noticed quite well, because she covered.

Dr break I started some of the best reporting actually came from state affiliated Media in the early days, and it was a wonderful reminder how hard and talented Chinese reporters state affiliated publications like taking them and sons of water in the first interview with the Doctor Who sound of the alarm on the coronavirus Lee William was actually done by beating them, but which is the newspaper affiliated to the Beijing coming asleep, so I think I mean it's very easy to speak about the Chinese regime but I think it might also be worthwhile to move beyond and look a little deeper into was actually underneath that and the complexity soda reaction from you to that and then I'll bring in other voices extremely complex.

Add into in the past.

It was possible for this Media to engage in interviews that in potentially sensitive subjects like at the time of the stars.

They were much more coverage of the of the assassin.

They were much more criticism of the government at this time.

It was actually after a short moment when online the tennis could comment on the covid-19 there has been a wave of a propaganda and A wave of the censorship.

That's that it's made them.

Stop Stevens does that telly with your more recent experience.

Yes, I mean it is always fascinating to speak to reporters another based in Beijing and then you'll discover that the experience that they're having is very much the experience that you're having in Hong Kong I mean in the past.

Just to give you an example.

I was always hoping to quote people by name.

That's what journalists to its credibility to the quote.

I now find myself in in recent months and weeks never using people names a mess of course.

They're official suppose people for an organisation because it's too dangerous and during the process when they were at their height in Hong Kong in 2009 a lot of young people would say to me.

Oh, yes you can use my name in the paper and even then I would say to them you know it's not my business to get you into trouble.

It's my business to report what's going on.

I would strongly suggest not using your name.

So this is something which I haven't experienced before in Hong Kong but certainly people who are familiar with cover mainland.

What do this all the time Amy I wanted to invite you to tell us briefly why you're in Taiwan now because you left Beijing

Are you been reporting from China as in mainland China for how long at that point for about 7 years in China before we were expelled and how do you find out how did you find out that you are having to leave during March 2020 and around that time you know just the rest of the world is starting to understand.

What was happening with the pandemic in China it's broken out in December January and we were a few months then that was my last trip in China been investigated and then I came back to Beijing where I live and I just remember there is a night in March when I just have to wake up in the middle of the night and I check my phone and there was just a barrage of messages from colleagues and

Did you see the news and that's when I saw that the Chinese government had announced that they were expelling I must all American journalist working for three American news organisation the Washington Post the Wall Street Journal and then your time and I was quite a shock really wasn't expecting that on the way that the Chinese government framed it was that it was technically a measure against the US government which had earlier removed to limit the number of Chinese journalists working for state-run Media publications in the US and so but I think because of the sort of brother can't text I would have been happening with one Media in China that increasing harassment the you know you couldn't help it.

So take it as brother panic attack and the exposure is what they just don't renew the short-term visa.

Is that is that what happens in practice?

I meant by anyone who I didn't matter how much time you had on your visa, you had to get out within a few weeks and so we also started at that time it was because of covered there any travel restrictions going to the US we know some of us a very unfortunate was it some of US Embassy potentially got involved with the time in order to help you and others are certainly was in a part of them, but I can definitely imagine that they were interested and involved in it as well remember the fact that the last 2 Australian journalists in China and spending their final days in the living inside the Australian Embassy before they left right.

I mean what happened with the BBC in the UK

Now you'll be worse as well like I said that US government has at least you know that this is part of a broader US China politics isn't punishment for our cover it is definitely a very difficult time for all foreign Media operating a China before the reuters Institute tit-for-tat was mentioned by Amy give it a bit of context to that of all your reporting it and it's being done and Incredibly difficult circumstances and thank you for bits appearing that is part of global trend of weaponizing journalism and journalists are the Casualty so we have leaders in several countries including the United States station in particular being very openly critical of their own journalists in their own Media outlets as well as foreign one casting aspersions on the integrity of journalists stingers.

The political affiliations implying that they're not independent and this tit-for-tat scenario is very very dangerous, because it enables and emboldened leaders around the world.

I I use visas and work permits as weapons when they're exactly meant to be neutral in parcel bureaucratic processes that protectionism protect press freedom.

It's really very concerning because back in March just looking at the US did there was 60 Chinese journalists ordered to leave in March 2020 under trump because he ordered several Chinese Media organisations to dismiss 60 in retaliation for what was described as a long-standing trend of actions by Beijing against I mean if you look back and back.

It is hard to determine who started all that really well.

It shouldn't be who started in each country should have its low.

Protect press freedom and that permit independent journalism and each government has a duty to adhere to the those laws and use those laws to protect the journalist in there, so if you do need that the journalist operating in your country are foreign agents or are in fact part of the foreign missions which US state Chinese state Media outlets for reclassified within embassies if you're going to do that you've got to that because you think that is part of your legal process and that is part of your independent observation not because it's what happened elsewhere.

I'm in the UK government has also expelled free Chinese journalists who they say worse pies this year of course Ofcom revoke the light from China global television news, how much do those at former part of this bigger story that you're alluding to very definitely part of the biggest story.

Cgtn has been part of the China propaganda mission abroad that said it was referring to I think it's it's it's it's very good that Ofcom really.

It's dangerous to allow several kind of state broadcasters, which don't allow independent critical journalism to be registered in this country does that give them a kind of credibility and a cuppa licence to operate Elsa in the world as well and it is very much playing into the kind of journalism disconnect between what's happened on the operation on and how is affecting journalist on the ground.

So visa people's lives so these are people who have moved families and careers and have made plans plans can be appended at any moment is incredibly unsettling for all foreign Correspondents I think working for any organisation when you look at organisations like my world.

There are lots of young journalists in Britain who did join them because they were an employer that paid well offered a decent gig in in a certain format your lap report free on any part of the song is it wasn't Turkey so you don't you can't really blame journalist for joining these organisations, but you do end up with a very break toxic jittery environment.

I think that takes to you and ask how hard was it to leave when you've been there for so long when when you've got an established set of work and life patterns in the place that you live and colleagues difficult was the upheaval is extremely you know I had been there for quite a long time some of my colleagues for even longer, and it yeah, I'm just being under the constant threat of being kicked out.

It makes one you no wonder if in the future.

We do get back and is it just a matter of time you know how much longer they could pick you up within a month.

Life planning very difficult of course as well, you know trying something some place that I studied had a lot of have a lot of personal connection to as well and so just leaving it on those times and Stephen you probably felt the same to agree.

I mean I've been here a long time.

That's ok.

I'm still staying here.

I'm actually in UK now in Hong Kong for 35 years and leaving Hong Kong was just heart-wrenching I can't tell you how difficult that was leaving behind friends and colleagues being aware that friends are in jail being aware that there are people who infinitely more courageous than me still trying to what channel is supposed to do under all sorts of threats which there exists the whole thing is miserable looking forward finally in the last couple of minutes.

You mentioned that in an ideal world Media from around the world or to invest more have more people there to tell the story more effectively more accurately on occasions, but in the current climate.

Can you see that happening?

I think as we've mentioned before it seems to be getting more difficult for journalists all over the world and obviously China is a particularly difficult place.

So you know I'm just a Jealous I don't know whether I can predict the future, but I can tell you what I think we still or to do if we believe in good journalism, which is there before two double down and two and send people who have expertise who speak the language we can do that reporting know the subject matter and who are willing to actually also work as people who explain complex things because you know at the end of the day is the second biggest economy in the world and soon-to-be the biggest and it just seems so strange to me.

I was observing that in China for long time that you.

Responding we didn't speak language.

I mean we would never ever sent a non English speaker to the UK right to cover British politics.

We must leave it there because time is beavers should say as I did earlier on that we did put some these boys to the Chinese embassy but as he had nothing from them, but thank you very much to all of my guests today to Amy chintu Shah wine citracal biryani in Taiwan Tamera silver and to Steve Vines of a number of publications in addition to the Observer Stephen to make that absolutely clear forget you can catch up with pasta distances show via the BBC Sounds app the media show back at the same time next week.

Thank you very much for listening and goodbye.

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