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International Journalists Face Changing Regulations in China, US

FILE - Journalists wearing face masks attend an official press conference about a virus outbreak at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Jan. 26, 2020.
FILE - Journalists wearing face masks attend an official press conference about a virus outbreak at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Jan. 26, 2020.

China and the United States in the past year have unveiled new regulations that force some news media organizations that receive government funding to register as government entities. Amid the regulatory changes, China Wednesday ordered three foreign reporters to leave the country because of complaints over a headline that appeared in their newspaper. Here’s an overview of the changing media laws, and the fallout for journalists.

Why did Beijing expel the American reporters?

China’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that the Wall Street Journal’s decision to publish an opinion column with the headline “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” was “racially discriminatory” and tried to discredit China’s efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak. The editorial was written by an American academic in the newspaper’s opinion section, but the foreign ministry said: “Chinese people do not welcome media that speak racially discriminatory languages … as such, it is decided today, the press credentials of three WSJ journalists will be revoked.”

Beijing said the decision to force the reporters to leave the country was not linked to the State Department’s ruling on restricting Chinese news organizations operating in the U.S. earlier this week.

Why did the U.S. State Department designate five Chinese news agencies as foreign government entities?

The State Department said Tuesday that Xinhua, China Radio, China Daily, CGTN and The People’s Daily will be officially treated as extensions of China’s government, subjecting employees to similar rules that foreign diplomats operate under. U.S. officials say the designation reflects the reality that these are not editorially independent newsrooms, but are controlled by the Chinese government. Chinese officials rejected the decision and said Chinese media covers news objectively.

Why is the State Department making this change now?

U.S. officials have been warning for years about China’s expanding operations targeting foreign countries, and in recent months have taken action. U.S. officials have announced prosecutions of academics who did not report receiving money from Chinese-government-linked institutions, named Chinese military hackers who allegedly stole personal records of millions of Americans, and accused Chinese technology companies of stealing intellectual property. The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, said this month that China is threatening U.S. security by exploiting the openness of the American economy and society.

Are VOA, BBC, DW and other state-funded broadcasters subject to the same State Department regulations on government funding?

News organizations that receive government funding and also maintain editorially independent newsrooms are not subjected to the new State Department regulations because they have policies and structures to protect their editorial independence. For example, at the BBC, the organization’s charter commits it to pursuing “due impartiality” in all of its output. At VOA, the founding charter and editorial firewall keep its journalists independent and prevent government officials from interfering in news decisions.

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