Dhe organization “Reporters Without Borders” has asked the Chinese government to allow criticism of their handling of the new corona virus. Managing Director Christian Mihr said that whoever praises the Chinese government’s action against the virus should also consider that the same government is silencing critical voices. Journalists who want to report independently disappear again and again in China. Others are placed under house arrest. Two citizen journalists disappeared in February and journalist Li Zehua has been missing since March. He had quit his job at the state television broadcaster CCTV to independently report on the situation in Wuhan (F.A.Z. on March 6). Ren Zhiqiang, himself a member of the Communist Party, who criticized the government for trying to cover up the virus, has been missing since mid-March.
Social media censorship
Researchers at Canada’s CitizenLab have shown that the Chinese government has been trying to censor information about the virus from the start. Certain keywords and keyword combinations had been blocked in various social media such as the YY streaming platform or the WeChat news service in order to prevent information about the new virus. YY censorship began on December 31, exactly one day after several Chinese doctors, including Li Wenliang, who died of Covid-19, warned of the dangers of the virus. Even after the rapid spread of the virus, the government did not change its tactics, on the contrary: more and more words were blocked. New regulations to regulate content online came into effect on March 1, allowing the government to further increase pressure.
Despite censorship, journalists try to provide the population with information. In their reports, they often write about local omissions rather than criticizing senior politicians. Censored texts, such as an interview with Chinese doctor Ai Fen, who criticized government behavior in the fight against the virus in the American “People” magazine, are translated into other languages or Braille, replaced by words with emojis or behind QR- Hidden codes to allow further spreading.
China ranks 177 out of 180 on the press freedom list. 108 media workers are in prison there.