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China benefits when democracy targets press freedom

In June of this year, Philippine authorities boldly ordered the creation of an independent news site. rapper shuts downFebruary 2021, powerful Senegalese government minister won Defamation lawsuit against the daily newspaper Le Témoin. In the same month in Malaysia, a court certified digital news outlet Malaysiakini. guilty or contempt of court for reader comments on websites that criticize the judiciary.

News media are increasingly facing restrictions around the world. However, what these three media outlets have in common is a record of exposing information from the Chinese government. Political, economical When media influence on their respective societies.

By suppressing them for domestic political reasons, national authorities are also effectively weakening their country’s ability to resist interference from the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes.

As the Communist Party of China (CCP) prepares to convene its 20th Congress, which begins on October 16, new report Efforts by the party to shape news coverage with a diverse sample of 30 countries have stepped up, according to Freedom House documents. The report also tracks how these countries are responding. Its key finding is that a free press is an essential component of a country’s resilience to influence campaigns by foreign authoritarian regimes, but its defense is dictated by anti-democratic actions by targeted home governments. It is often damaged.

The 19 countries surveyed in our report have seen an increase in domestic attacks against media and civil society since 2019.

Since the CCP began facing a wave of attacks in 2019, it has pursued its efforts to strengthen its influence over foreign media more aggressively and with urgency. worldwide condemnation Because of the atrocities in Xinjiang, crackdown in hong kong, and the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beijing is using this campaign to project a distorted image of the CCP as a responsible international stakeholder.

According to our report, Beijing is increasingly using covert coercive tactics such as diplomatic intimidation, cyberbullying, mass-deploying fake accounts on social media, and spreading CCP narratives through friendly local voices. I found that I was looking at

Independent journalists and civil society activists have been particularly instrumental in pushing back against these tactics by shedding light on China-related disinformation campaigns, potentially corrupt investment deals, and human rights abuses by the CCP. In doing so, they have defied self-censorship pressure from the Chinese government, its proxies and their own officials.

In Kenya, the Independent Media Council publicly rebuked In 2019, the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation accused it of republishing Chinese state propaganda about Xinjiang.The Italian press investigated social his media posts and hashtags by a Chinese diplomat regarding his aid to the country during his COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020 and found that they were manipulated sharing false information or boosted with a bot.

In March 2022, the Philippine National Union of Journalists will: guidelines For reporting on China in response to China’s growing influence in the region, while emphasizing transparency and independence while avoiding racist language against Chinese people.

Democracies cannot control Beijing’s efforts to expand its influence globally, but they can control their own policies and responses. When democratic leaders undermine human rights protections and undermine democratic norms at home, they expose their countries to potential exploitation by powerful authoritarian states like China.

Our report chronicles several countries attacking the media in ways that weaken democratic defenses against the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.Overseen by India’s Hindu nationalist government Arrest of a journalist It also put financial and editorial pressure on news outlets to limit their coverage of important news.

At the moment, Indian media groups are still free enough. push back Efforts by the Chinese embassy to shape its coverage of Taiwan, especially as relations between New Delhi and Beijing are currently deteriorating. But further efforts to structurally undermine the independent media could hinder coverage of the Chinese government’s influence efforts.

In Nigeria, meanwhile, journalists filed Freedom of Information requests. Release The Nigerian government’s acceptance of billions of dollars in opaque loans from China’s state-owned banks. Such important reports could be in jeopardy if the Nigerian government goes ahead with plans to build government offices. The Chinese Communist Party’s “Great Firewall” Or introduce Chinese style prison sentence For important social media posts.

Other democracies have also moved away from human rights values ​​in recent years.

In the UK, the government proposed weak king Protection of whistleblowers under the Official Secrets Act scrap replace human rights law, deterioration Online encryption tool.

In the United States, two Supreme Court Justices signaled I am interested in overturning the strong defamation protection precedent that has existed since 1964. Effort that is weaken encryption technology.and the journalists faced Violence and arrests while covering 2020 protests Demonization as an “enemy of the people” by political leaders.

Beijing will undoubtedly use anti-democratic behavior in democracies to justify its own human rights abuses. Freedom His House has tracked the decline of democracy for 16 years and how authoritarian regimes like the Chinese Communist Party have expanded their influence globally in this vacuum.

This influence has played out in a variety of ways that shape news reporting in favor of the CCP, including local media and governments censoring or restricting coverage on behalf of Beijing.

ESPN reportedly memo To reporters who banned China and Hong Kong political coverage when discussing the repercussions of a tweet from the Houston Rockets general manager who supported Hong Kong protesters in 2019.Mozambican and Malaysian governments have restricted local news coverage critical of Chinese authorities. British GQ magazine Removed An online article that named China’s President Xi Jinping as the third worst-dressed man of 2019 reportedly found it and said it would cause an “attack.”

Policymakers in democracies need to make corrections before it’s too late. They must strengthen democratic norms at home to protect human rights and build resilience against authoritarian activity.

They must end their attacks on the media, civil society and individuals who exercise their right to freedom of expression.

Lawmakers should repeal laws criminalizing “fake news” and adopt stronger protections against defamation lawsuits. They should ensure that regulations on foreign funds and investments are transparently and fairly enforced, while preventing political persecution of independent media and civil society groups with foreign ties.

All measures to limit or counteract the harmful influence of the CCP must be proportionate, lawful and otherwise consistent with international human rights standards.

Rappler, Le Témoin and Malaysiakini have survived government attacks so far, but operate in an increasingly threatened sector.

The CCP actively adapts and applies domestically learned skills to suppress foreign dissent.

Democracies have the means to resist this effort, but to succeed they must stop damaging the tools and assets themselves, which are the greatest shields against China’s plans.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial attitude of Al Jazeera.

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