During a 23 year career with BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW), and 38 years in journalism, (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), our Editor, Welshman, Phil Parry, has always tried to hold true to certain principles, and in that context, after once more refusing to be interviewed by China’s state controlled media, here he looks again at the country’s role now in washing clean away the crimes in Ukraine caused by Russia, as it’s reported that media freedom there is declining at ‘breakneck speed’.
Earlier he has described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdownis playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
It is very important to adhere to certain principles. This may sound absurdly pompous, but it is no less the case because of that.
Throughout a long journalistic career, I have always tried to possess integrity, and be truthful as well as accurate. However, it seems that pursuing these ideals in writing stories, brings out facts others would rather are kept hidden, and the level of online abuse I endure is extraordinary.
I have endeavoured to keep true to these fundamentals even at a personal cost, as I have again this week turned down an appearance on the state-controlled World Today (CGTN [China Global Television Network] Radio).
CGTN is based in the Chinese capital of Beijing, which is struggling with an outbreak of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 at the moment, as it enforces the country’s much-criticised ‘zero-Covid’ strategy, and there any restrictions are called ‘jing mo’, or ‘stay silent’.
In the 25 million strong city of Shanghai the lockdown has been far more rigorous, but in this region it is known, incongruously, as a ‘pause’.
Details in these cities have come out, despite the fact that independent reporting of what is happening in China is banned. I firmly believe in a free media, and my decision not to appear on Chinese radio, came even before the country’s leader Xi Jinping continued to back Vladimir Putin, as he pursued his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and in the face of appalling human rights abuses there.
What has happened in the past few months, has only, for me, confirmed my decision not to be used as a guest by CGTN, evidently, however, the producers did not get the message, because I had informed them earlier: ‘As you are state-run (they call it state-‘affiliated’), and, as I have written about on my website, I believe in media freedom, I no longer wish to contribute to ANY of your programmes https://the-eye.wales/nosey-m
My decision is set against the background of a report earlier this year, by the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) of China, which highlighted the truth about what is happening in the country. The report in January, said that journalists there faced physical assault, hacking, online trolling and visa denials, as media freedom in China declined at a “breakneck speed”.
This week, I was rung up by someone from the World Today asking me to comment on the recent travails of Boris Johnson.
When I declined, I was asked why, and replied that I believe in a free media. I was then pressed on the reason for this decision now, as I had been a panellist in the past, so I responded by saying that it was because of the Ukrainian invasion. I was then subjected to a lengthy ‘defence’ of China’s position, which I interrupted with the words: “The day that Xi Jinping condemns Putin and Russia (which is unlikely EVER to happen) is the day that I do an interview for you”.
I was angered that this person was defending China’s “rock solid friendship” with Russia which is also responsible for an appalling official attack on a free media, as well as an outrageous exhibition of naked aggression.
Apart from outlawing an independent press, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said cooperation between China and Russia, is advantageous to the two peoples, and Mr Xi has stated that their friendship “knows no limits”.
But comments like these sit uneasily with what has occurred in Ukraine.
At Kramatorsk two Russian rockets landed near a railway station packed with civilian refugees, killing dozens of people, and injuring over 100, with at least five children among the dead. The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, accused Russia of “deliberate slaughter”, saying on Twitter: “Russians knew that the train station in Kramatorsk was full of civilians waiting to be evacuated. Yet they struck it with a ballistic missile, killing at least 39 and injuring at least a hundred people.
Meanwhile Chernihiv in the north of Ukraine has seen at least 700 civilian deaths, according to a Ukrainian MP, and dozens of people were found buried in a mass grave near the capital Kyiv, according to an official, after Russian forces withdrew. There are reports, too, that Russia has used chemical weapons in the besieged city of Mariupol.
It seems that Russia is even ready for new horrors being exposed, and, in its own way, is preparing the world for news about them. The Russian embassy in the UK has claimed that Ukraine’s “nationalist regime” is “preparing another provocation” that will “accuse Russia of allegedly massacring civilians in Irpen“.
All of this comes as Ukrainian leaders predict more gruesome discoveries in the days ahead, because retreating Russian forces have left devastation in their wake. The Mayor of Bucha – where Russian soldiers committed monstrous war crimes – said investigators have found at least three sites of mass shootings of civilians. Most victims, he said, died from gunshots – not shelling – and corpses have been found with their hands tied, and “dumped like firewood” into recently uncovered mass graves, including one at a children’s camp.
During one terrible incident in the town, Ukrainian men were tortured by soldiers, before the commander was asked what should now be done with them. He answered: “Yebashit (fucking do them in)“, adding: “but do it away from the base”.
It appears that the Foreign Ministers of the G7 (a club of developed nations) have no doubt who is to blame. In a statement about the massacre, they said: “We, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, condemn in the strongest terms the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in Bucha and a number of other Ukrainian towns”. The remark was made as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the situation in the town of Borodianka was “much more disastrous” than in Bucha.
So what are we to make of China’s support (effectively) for this kind of behaviour, and, my being asked to contribute to a state-controlled radio programme?
A film doing the rounds among officials in China may give a clue as to the reasoning behind the first issue at least. It lionises Josef Stalin, and blames famines (in, for example, Ukraine) that followed his collectivisation of agriculture, on ‘rich’ peasants hoarding grain. It denies that his political purges killed millions, and calls it slander to accuse Adolf Hitler and Stalin of jointly launching the Second World War (Poland, which the two tyrants invaded from the west and the east, might disagree). It expresses outrage at those who say that some Soviet-era heroes and martyrs are inventions, and it accuses the West of having schemed to undermine the Soviet Union for decades, by handing Nobel prizes to dissenting writers, inviting reform-minded officials on academic exchanges and, by the late 1980s, supporting civil society and a free press.
In both China and Russia media freedom has been severely restricted, so that it is difficult to get to the bottom of controversial events, and the kind of inquiring journalism we undertake on The Eye would NOT be tolerated.
Censorship in China has been implemented and mandated by the country’s ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Government officials censor content for mainly political reasons, such as in curtailing political opposition, as well as to block information about events which are unfavourable to the CCP, like, for instance, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, but also in order to maintain control over the populace.
Since Mr Xi became General Secretary of the CCP (and is now seeking a THIRD term against norms) in 2012, censorship has been significantly tightened. The government today has control over all media capable of reaching a wide audience, including, television, print, radio, film, theatre, text messaging, instant messaging, video games, literature, and the internet.
Its grip is almost total, and there is only a semblance of defence for it. Chinese government officials assert that they have the right to control the internet’s content within their territory, and that their rules do not infringe on citizens’ right to free speech (Ukraine might be intrigued by this!).Reporters Without Borders, though, ranks China’s freedom of the media situation as “very serious”, the worst ranking on their five-point scale.
Even 10 years ago China’s position was appalling. The ‘OpenNet Initiative’ classified internet censorship in China as “pervasive” in political and conflict/security areas, as well as “substantial” in those of social and internet tools, the two most extensive classifications of the five they use. Freedom House, a US-backed NGO, ranks the Chinese press as “not free”, the worst possible ranking, declaring that “state control over the news media in China is achieved through a complex combination of party monitoring of news content, legal restrictions on journalists, and financial incentives for self-censorship”.
Local journalists in mainland China and Hong Kong are also being targeted, while the authorities have labelled the FCC an “illegal organisation”. This term appears to be being bandied around willy-nilly, as Mr Jinping, exerts ever greater authority in China.
Journalists’ attempts to report facts, such as in the persecution of the mostly-Muslim Uyghur people in the north-western region of Xinjiang, are being severely hampered. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years, in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and that it has sentenced hundreds of thousands of them to prison terms. There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as slave labour, and of women being forcibly sterilised, as well as some former camp detainees alleging that they have been tortured and sexually abused.
Two recent books have laid bare in horrifying detail what is happening inside China. ‘In The Camps’ by Darren Byler, describes how facial recognition and high-technologuy surveillance, make resistance impossible. The accounts from Gulbahar Haitiwaji in ‘How I Survived a Chinese ‘Reeducation’ Camp’ are just as disturbing. Internees are forced to stand motionless for hours, sit on plastic stools, day in day out, until their intestines prolapse, and are told to sing patriotic songs, giving thanks to Mr Jinping. “We were eternal victims, bowed under the weight of threats”, says Ms Haitiwaji.
CGTN, however, have a slightly different view of events surrounding the Uyghurs, and their journalists have ‘reported’ that: “Some anti-China forces in the West, including the United States, have concocted and disseminated plenty of false information about China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region”.
Yet last year Ofcom said the company which possesses the UK licence for CGTN is not actually in charge, which is against its rules. It seemed that Star China Media Limited (SCML), which owns the licence for CGTN, “did not have editorial responsibility”. This judgement was made after accusations that CGTN repeatedly breached impartiality rules and aired forced confessions. Ofcom had also received a complaint stating that CGTN should not be allowed to broadcast at all because it was effectively controlled by the CCP. The director of human rights group Safeguard Defenders, Peter Dahlin, said: “The best way forward is to revoke their (CGTN/SCML) licence to teach them that this is unacceptable”.
This has come after many years, during which worrying news has been revealed about what is happening inside China. 10 years ago the FCC was forced to issue a warning to its members after three employees of European media companies were attacked. The reporters for the companies were covering land rights protests in the village of Panhe, in the eastern Zhejiangprovince, and in one incident, a French reporter had his car rammed, while a group of men beat up his Chinese assistant. In another, a Dutch correspondent was attacked by men who seemed to be plain-clothes police.
This is what happens if you stick to your principles. It seems CGTN radio may be doing the same thing by asking me, again, to appear on a programme.
But they appear to mean support for not having a free media, as well as keeping a “rock solid friendship” with a country which invades another one, and commits heinous human rights abuses there…