Outcry as China Prevents Pacific Journalists from Interviewing Wang Yi | freedom of the press
Journalists covering the Chinese foreign minister’s Pacific tour say they were barred from filming or accessing the events, and no questions from a Pacific reporter were allowed to be asked. Wang Yi.
The allegations raise serious press freedom concerns and worries about the ability of journalists in the Pacific to do their jobs, especially as relations between the region and China grow closer.
Wang is halfway through a marathon trip visiting eight countries in 10 days. He has held bilateral meetings in Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji so far, with trips to Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste to come.
At each step, Wang has signed bilateral agreements, but he has yet to answer a single question from a Pacific reporter, who was told at the start of the press conferences that no questions will be allowed.
Lice Movono, a Fijian journalist who writes for the Guardian, said that during the Fiji leg of the tour she witnessed multiple attempts by Chinese officials to limit journalists’ ability to cover the event.
“From the start, there was a lot of secrecy, no transparency, no access given,” she said.
She said media who were allowed to cover the visit – including herself – had their press cards revoked without explanation, and that she and her cameraman were ordered by police to leave the hall of the Grand Pacific hotel in Suva, where they were to film the start of the meeting between Wang and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on Monday.
On Sunday, as the media prepared to film Wang’s arrival at the Pacific Islands Forum building for a meeting with its secretary general, Henry Puna, the ABC was prevented from filming, despite being allowed to do it. The Pacific Islands Forum intervened to allow filming to continue, but Movono said Chinese officials were standing in front of the camera, trying to block the shooting.
Movono said Wang and Bainimarama’s joint press conference on Monday afternoon was led by Chinese officials.
“The press briefing itself was organized by the visiting government, press passes were issued by the Chinese government,” she said. “They told us that we would not be allowed to ask questions. When some of us shouted questions anyway, a Chinese government official shouted to stop.
Movono said that when a reporter asked questions, he was ordered out of the room and a guard tried to escort him out before other reporters intervened to defend him.
“I was quite disturbed by what I saw,” Movono said. “When you live in Fiji you kind of get used to the militarized nature of the place, but seeing the Chinese officials doing this was quite disturbing… Being a journalist in Fiji means worrying all the time about the imprisonment. Journalism is criminalized. You can be imprisoned or the company you work for can be fined cripplingly which can end the operation… But seeing foreign nationals push you back in your own country, that was a different level.
During Wang’s first stop in the Solomon Islands, the Solomon Islands Media Association (MASI) boycotted coverage of the visit because many journalists were prevented from attending Wang’s press conference, the restrictions of Covid-19 being cited as the reason.
There were only two questions allowed, one from a Solomons reporter to the islands’ foreign minister and the other from the Chinese media to Wang.
At Wang’s stops in Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji, no questions were allowed at press events held by political leaders announcing bilateral deals.
Georgina Kekea, president of MASI, said the lack of access granted to journalists during the visit raised serious concerns about press freedom, which she said was generally quite strong in the Solomon Islands.
“It’s quite worrying for us, we really have good freedom to do our job, but when it comes to these events, they seem to block us,” she said. “Anything to do with China, it seems like everyone is going behind closed doors with that… It’s very frustrating.”
Shailendra Singh, associate professor of journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, said the lack of access raised many questions. “Journalists’ lack of access to the Minister of Foreign Affairs is deeply troubling. This goes against the democratic principles of the countries of the region and the role of the media in a free society.
“Are our governments blocking the media on their own or at the request of the Chinese? And then ? Will the media also be banned from asking questions of our local politicians and leaders? … This is a worrying trend that must stop.