Written by Richard Selwyn.

The difficulties of reporting in China have been well-documented. And as if to confirm this fact, last week Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released their 2017 international press freedom index. The rankings are based on a survey of media professionals, lawyers and sociologists, and also take into account reported incidents of abuse or violence against journalists. China currently ranks 176th on the list, ahead of only North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and Syria.

This position at the bottom of the table highlights the challenges faced by journalists working in China. As China’s global reach continues to grow, these restrictions have spread beyond domestic news outlets and reporters. In recent years, China has sought to develop an international news broadcaster able to compete with English-language networks such as the BBC or CNN. Previously known as CCTV-9 and CCTV International, the China Global Television Network (CGTN) is an important soft power initiative, with studios in Nairobi, London and Washington. Yet despite its professional appearance, the state-run broadcaster will find it very difficult to achieve its stated aim of neutral, objective reporting. Its team of international journalists will also find it difficult to prove the integrity of their reporting, and it seems inevitable that the invisible mark of self-censorship will continue to hamper journalists’ efforts to report the full truth.

Of course, China’s journalists still investigate controversial stories, and newsworthy stories continue to emerge. The growth of social media and its role as a news-sharing platform has helped to spread these stories, and created a public that is better-informed and more willing to challenge the narrative presented by the state. But will this increasingly contentious public be able to open up the cracks in China’s authoritarian press control? 

In this special issue, we will address questions of censorship, control, and the internationalisation of China’s news outlet. You can follow us on twitter or facebook to keep up to date with news from CPI: Analysis.

Richard Selwyn is an editorial assistant for the CPI: Analysis blog. Image Credit: CC by Szymon Kochański/Flickr.