China’s visit to Pacific highlights growing threat to journalism in the region | #socialmedia | #education | #technology | #infosec


Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s whirlwind visit to the Pacific has seen press conferences and media access heavily restricted, highlighting the growing threat to journalism in the region. 

For Peter Greste — the director for the Alliance of Journalists’ Freedom and a professor of journalism at Macquarie University — what has played out during the visit to the region was troubling but not particularly surprising.

“What we’ve seen in this particular trip is the latest and perhaps the more extreme version of a trend that we’re seeing play out in the Solomon Islands, in Fiji, and across the region,” Professor Greste said.

“What is, I think, really concerning is the way in which a lot of countries across the Pacific region have been adopting some of the more authoritarian tendencies of China, to control the flow of information.”

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Details about Mr Wang’s trip, which was aimed at signing Pacific nations up to a range of security and trade deals, have been scarce and journalists’ interactions with officials have at times been tense.

In Fiji on Monday, Chinese officials attempted to block an ABC camera operator from filming a meet and greet between Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) secretary-general Henry Puna and Mr Wang.

“I watched as Chinese government media and Chinese officials tried to stand in the way of this cameraman so they wouldn’t be able to do their work,” senior Fijian journalist and ABC freelancer Lice Movono said.

“Thankfully, the forum secretariat were very vocal in their insistence that they would not suppress the media, that they would allow the Pacific media to conduct itself in the way that free media does.”

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During Mr Wang’s first leg of the trip, the Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI) called on members to boycott a press conference after local and Chinese media were told they could collectively ask one question of their respective foreign minister ahead of a scheduled press conference.

MASI board member and journalist Dorothy Wickham told the ABC there was no justification for the press conference restrictions, leaving journalists angry and disappointed.

Dorothy Wickham says journalists are disappointed with the press conference restrictions.(Supplied: Dorothy Wickham )

“I know our colleagues in Fiji face a problem such as restrictions on certain things and maybe also they do not feel free to speak up or even write on certain things,” she said.

“But in the Solomon Islands, we’ve never had that problem and I am disappointed that our government is allowing itself to allow this.

“I think [China is] expecting our government to keep certain things from the public and I think that’s where they’re making the wrong move,” she said.

While China has one of the world’s most restrictive approaches to press freedom, Professor Greste cautioned against drawing a direct line between Beijing’s stance and the trends playing out in the Pacific.

“What we know is that the region has been moving closer to China in all sorts of ways and this trip was very clearly an attempt by China to cement its relationship and deepen its relationship across the region,” he said.

“And we’ve seen a lot of attempts by governments to use punitive actions to control. 

“It’s hard to say that those two things are directly connected, that China is directly responsible for causing this or whether there’s … soft influence or whether it’s just simply a coincidence. 

“Whatever is causing that trend, I think we need to start arguing very, very forcefully for reversal.”

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Pacific Island nations have declined to sign China’s sweeping regional economic and security deal, Stephen Dziedzic reports.

How is media freedom under threat in the Pacific?

Issues of freedom of the press, censorship — and even self-censorship — have been simmering in the Pacific for some time. 

Dr Shailendra Singh from the University of the South Pacific said the transition to the internet and social media for news consumption had caused revenue from newspaper subscription fees to evaporate and made many local media businesses financially vulnerable.

Pacific outlets sometimes rely on government advertising to support their enterprises, which Dr Singh says threatens the editorial independence of media.

Press freedom has deteriorated in the Pacific and journalists are concerned officials are unwilling to answer questions.(ABC News: Natalie Whiting)

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