PMA extremely concerned by arrest and harassment of journalists in China

28th November 2022
A BBC journalist was beaten and arrested by the police while reporting on protests in Shanghai, while a journalist for Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) was threatened and nearly had his equipment confiscated. 
The China correspondent for RTS, Michael Peuker, was harassed by police while he was reporting live for the RTS programme, 19h30. He was covering the protests which were taking place across the country at the time. Credit: RTS

The Public Media Alliance is extremely concerned by the arrest and harassment of public media journalists by authorities in China, as they reported on protests which have erupted across major cities in recent days.

Edward Lawrence, a senior journalist and camera operator with the BBC, was “arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai,” according to a BBC statement on 27 November. “During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police. … We have had no official explanation or apology from the Chinese authorities, beyond a claim … that they had arrested him for his own good in case he caught Covid from the crowd. We do not consider this a credible explanation.”

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He was released a few hours later. Chinese authorities claimed Mr. Lawrence did not identify himself as a journalist.

Meanwhile, a radio journalist with RTS – the French-language Swiss public service broadcaster – was threatened and harassed by officials as he was reporting live from Shanghai.

“The tension here is at its peak,” RTS’ China correspondent, Michael Peuker, said as he reported live during the 19h30 programme. “Proof of this is that I am now surrounded by three police officers, I will be taken to the police station after this broadcast.” According to the public broadcaster, he was then threatened with arrest, but was able to negotiate out of it. Their equipment, initially seized and loaded into the police car for investigation, was subsequently given back to them.

In a thread on Twitter, Mr. Peuker said the incident “remains revealing of the treatment of foreign journalists in China. Hindrances, intimidation, harassment on the ground have become commonplace.”

Interference was also experienced at the start of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where the Dutch public media journalist Sjoerd den Daas was interrupted by authorities during a live broadcast.

“Coupled with the draconian zero-Covid policy, these conditions have led to the departure or non-renewal of several correspondent positions,” Mr. Peuker said. “China isolates itself, becomes a black box. It’s unfortunate and no one comes out a winner in such a situation.”

The situation in China remains fraught, and the Public Media Alliance urges Chinese authorities to stop their harassment of journalists. During moments of heightened tension, it is imperative that independent public interest journalism can be conducted, to shine a light on what is happening on the ground. It is critical that these journalists are guaranteed their safety, and able to report without fear of reprisal.