China’s efforts to influence the media is stretching beyond its borders, claims foreign correspondent Louisa Lim.
Ms Lim, who reported from Beijing for the BBC for a decade, told the International Reporting Conference that China’s control of the media included creating fake commentators, fake Twitter accounts, and even fake journalists.
She said the attempted influence, such as propaganda and censorship, also extended to coverage in other countries, including Australia.
In China, the media acts as the “tongue and throat of the Party”, Ms Lim said, while censorship of social media was used as another tool to gain media control. Lim said a group called the “50 Cent Party” were paid to post positive comments on news stories in China.
“People who post about Tibetan issues have found their accounts are being closed down,” Ms Lim also said.
Censorship affects Chinese media so heavily that three quarters of journalists in China have their reporting hindered and one quarter have faced reprisals. Lim said some journalists had even been threatened, beaten or jailed.
Ms Lim said “truth telling is a dangerous occupation for journalists in China”, likening the profession to “spy craft” and “juggling balls in the dark”.
The author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia told of living in a house she suspected was bugged during her time in China and keeping her laptop locked in a safe at night. She said she also never spoke about her work to her family or online.
“I worked in absolute secret,” she said.
Ms Lim raised another crucial point, in light of the recent visit to China by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, asking, “What price are technology companies willing to pay for access to the Chinese market, and how will we know?”
China is the world’s largest jailer of journalists. However, Ms Lim regards it as more dangerous to be the source than the journalist, claiming that a source may end up in prison or detention, and risk losing their job and having their children taken out of schools. The worst possible scenario for a foreign journalist would be expulsion from China, she said. – Samantha Barrie
Photo of Louisa Lim by James Mott.