Tuesday, July 16, 2024

China’s Obstruction of Press Freedom Continues Unabated

Washington, DC – On a recent trip out of the US, I noticed that the cafes and bars were filled with people watching the Winter Olympics. The only skis on this beautiful island were jet skis and water skis. We were probably 2,000 miles from the nearest ski slope. Yet here were people watching the frozen games. When we say “the whole world is watching,” this is what it looks like. If people are watching there — where it was 75 at night — they were watching everywhere.

By watching these Olympics, one can learn something about China as well — about its geography, food, and culture. I saw pictures of the Great Wall. And I heard a little about human rights abuses. But one thing I did not hear was the name Haze Fan.

Ms. Fan is a journalist who works for Bloomberg. She has also worked for other large news organizations, including CNBC, Reuters, and Al Jazeera.

In December of 2020, Chinese security services were seen taking Ms. Fan from her apartment in Bejing. Bloomberg has tried a legal strategy to obtain her release, but that is difficult as she has not been charged. She should be helping Bloomberg shape its Olympics coverage, but instead, she is likely in solitary confinement. She has been held for 14 months. We know little about her condition or prospects for release. Indeed if you Google Haze Fan, you can find little written about her case in the western press. She has disappeared.

I was hopeful that this would change with the amount of sidebar coverage surrounding the Olympics. But if you search Haze Fan over the past few weeks as the games have been on, you will find very little other than what is written by Bloomberg. I am not reading about the efforts journalists have gone to trying to find out about her. I am not reading that they received 27 no comments in one morning from Chinese officials. I am not really seeing or learning anything about Haze Fan. I have seen videos of the Great Wall about 50 times so far.

Is it not news that China, the host country for the Winter Olympics, can grab a journalist who works for one of the world’s great news organizations and throw her in jail and keep her there for more than a year without filing charges? This is the very definition of arbitrary detention, which is something that is regularly flagged by the United Nations. It should be a violation of China’s own laws to hold somebody this long without charges. But it suits them. It is bold, open, and reckless. Great nations should not behave this way. But China seems to be getting away with it. They are paying no price so far. They are, however, paying significant sums to US PR firms to burnish their image during the games. Great Wall, again.

Aside from a few journalists, like Jason Rezaian of the Washington Post, we are not seeing mentions of Ms. Fan or her story in opinion pieces about the Olympics. Go look for yourself. There is almost nothing there. This is so unfortunate because, indeed, at these games, “the whole world is watching.” It is very hard to aggregate global eyeballs. Western media has missed an important teaching moment. There could have been a gold medal for press freedom at these games. Instead, Ms. Fan continues to stare at the four walls of her cell. No matter where she looks, the wall is there. That is what I think of when I hear Great Wall now. You are welcome to join me.

William McCarren is Executive Director of the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Haze Fan was one of the Club’s 2021 John Aubuchon Honorees for Press Freedom.
Author profile
William McCarren
Executive Director at National Press Club
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