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China and international censorship on World Press Freedom Day

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Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:31 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Today is World Press Freedom Day and during recent days we have learnt that BBC World News, our 24/7 international news channel, has been jammed by Chinese authorities during stories they regard as sensitive.

This included Damian Grammaticas' report yesterday on Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng leaving the US embassy.

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This deliberate electronic interference of the channel's distribution signal is just the latest in a long line of examples to block our impartial news and prevent it reaching audiences.

The BBC's Chinese language website has been consistently blocked in China, apart from a brief respite during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and our radio broadcasts in Mandarin were historically subject to persistent frequency interference for decades.
And these issues are certainly not just restricted to China.

In November, BBC World News was taken off-air in Pakistan by cable operators for broadcasting a documentary entitled Secret Pakistan.

BBC Persian TV has suffered deliberate interference to its broadcasting signals intermittently since its launch and the online service has consistently been blocked.

Other international broadcasters including Deutsche Welle and Voice of America have also been subject to deliberate electronic interference by the Iranian authorities.

In addition, in recent months, new tactics have been introduced which should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent international media.

This includes the intimidation of the families and acquaintances in Iran of BBC Persian's London-based staff. All journalists should be allowed to operate freely and any attempt to intimidate those known to them, is very concerning.

We strongly condemn these acts of censorship and harassment. The BBC has a long history of standing up to these attempts to prevent access to free media. This includes working closely with other international broadcasters to highlight these issues and encourage concerted international action.

We would again urge the countries where jamming, censorship and harassment emanates from, to stop these restrictive practices.

It is also imperative that the global community is doing all they can to counter attempts to block authoritative news.

The challenges that our international journalists face have never been so many and varied.

The BBC will continue to represent the voice of free media where there is no other access to fair and authoritative news - be it because of suppression and persecution of journalists, a growth in state sponsored media or attempts to jam or censor our news.

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we repeat the call on international governments and the relevant regulatory bodies to put maximum pressure on those who seek to block access to trusted and independent news.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News


  • Comment number 1.

    Strong as China might be, the planet is shared, and global survival will need co-operation towards self-control for humanity.

    Human response to destructive commercialism, nationalism and racism, as to any other manifestations of ignorance, fear, greed,corruption and aggression, has to be education and agreement on common interest in shared liberty.

  • Comment number 2.

    Whatever the historical and immediate pressures upon us, we simply cannot afford organising principles rival to 'the human'.

    China has no need to bow to claims of democratic liberty from countries disfigured by social inequality, but in all countries, for respect at home and abroad, any censorship should be 'measured' and clearly justifiable with respect to credible social threats.

  • Comment number 3.

    History worldwide is stained by wrong-doing. None has monopoly of 'good example'. All are 'born ignorant', in need of socialisation & education

    We may never be entirely free of need to confront bullying, at home, school, work, even across borders

    Only social inclusion, with income-share equality, can liberate individuals and see the end of local 'gang-culture' & international suspicion

  • Comment number 4.

    Please keep talking, not just to visiting dignitaries, but to your own people and to people worldwide, of your thoughts and plans for democracy.

    You will not just 'win friends', but help others to be worthy of friendship, at individual and state level.

  • Comment number 5.

    The hard-won progress of millennia might seem at an end in the face of population size, social complexity, sophisticated power and temptation, but these very factors must soon determine the future of all, for self-destruction or resolution.

    Leaders cannot be entirely 'responsible' for rogue officers, even rogue forces: but worthy leaders must show courage in investigation and correction.

  • Comment number 6.

    About the censorship in China, That is up to them

  • Comment number 7.

    It’s interesting that the high growth BRICS countries have major issues with freedom of the press, especially recently - I spotted an interesting article on a South African politics blog featured on BBC World last year - think this free press cartoon on it says it all!

  • Comment number 8.

    Peter, one can only hope China heeds BBC's call- I doubt whether it'll have any impact tho. Unfortunately, it's citizens that need to rise up a la Arab Spring against their leadership in order for such change to take place.

    @Michelle (#7)- the secrecy bill article on the same blog is even more relevant

  • Comment number 9.

    China has their own law system and respect of human rights, i didn't feel any limitation or infringement of human freedom, but everybody should respect and follow the rule of law, I noticed / believe Mr. Chen did lot of things internally in China illegally, why only he has more consciousness of human rights but sticking out remarkably in China?

  • Comment number 10.

    what I want to say, this case again presents some kind of misunderstanding between western world forwards to China even generally China is developing very fast, if always put 'color glass' to look at one so-called 'communist' country in discriminative way will not be helpful,

    take this case as tool to serve political trick is not good, I think.

  • Comment number 11.

    Perhaps the BBC should extend its call to other countries in BRICS too - freedom of expression in India, for example, seems to be heading in the same direction as China.

    @Davemary - it's not discriminating against China so much as trying to protect the human rights of its citizens.

  • Comment number 12.

    All can be precipitate & intemperate; & all may find selves 'part of a system' we know or come to know as 'not right'

    Painful to see selves 'wrong'; humbling to be 'seen wrong' by victims & others; frightening to be 'at risk of justice', earthly or 'divine'

    Foolish 'not to see', not to comment if able, not somehow to act for Good

    Vital, even if 'ahead', to set example of OWN progress

  • Comment number 13.

    A free press and the right to broadcast news to the people without government interference are indeed noble causes that we can and should support.

    Unfortunately it has never been something the BBC itself has ever been very keen on.

    BBC elitism and their set idealism, which often runs contrary to real life along with a desire to preach a BBC line is not the same as a free press

  • Comment number 14.

    When the broadcasters decides that their agenda is the truth and ignores the public as an irrelevance then democracy becomes just a dictatorship with votes.

    Should the BBC be free to report the news ? Yes of course, that is vital.

    Should the BBC decide what is best for the public to be told?
    Should the BBC set the agenda and decide that the popular opinion of the people should not be reported?

  • Comment number 15.

    Be careful China, on your road to freedom and democracy nobody will report the risk of the media deciding that they know better than the people.
    If you want the truth then don’t go looking for it in ivory towers.

    With no oppression of the press and a freedom to report what they want the BBC has decided that British public opinion is inferior to their own.

  • Comment number 16.

    englishvote @13-15
    Key Debate
    In good faith?

    Key Question: 'good faith'... with whom?

    Debating in 'social context' - accepting advantage in 'co-operation' - our deepest choice is between 'context of democracy' (rule Of, For, By The People), or 'other contexts' (species of dictatorship: autocratic, plutocratic, theocratic)

    Democracy, if genuine Equal-Sharing, NECESSARILY 'benign': 'others' NOT

  • Comment number 17.

    englishvote @15
    "road to freedom"

    Good to see "the people", as against the insulated (by "ivory" or other advantage tending to disqualify from 'understanding' and 'representation')

    BBC has Charter & Agreement, subject to 'review', incorporating respect for the democracy as 'fundamental principle' (not just as self-appellation by the ignorant or oppressive)

    Let us pray?

  • Comment number 18.

    China should learn from the BBC

    Charge all their citizens £150 for the privilege of expressing their opinion in 400 characters or less.

    Then claim it is a modern marvel of interactive media and they should appreciate having a free press!

  • Comment number 19.

    18. englishvote

    Careful, may be deemed 'sensitive' by some in 'authority'. Not sure what diff between referral & blocking is, but House Rules will have it covered without any irony at all.

    As to harassment, the letters those who opt out of getting the state system messaging receive from TV licensing seem pretty close.

    Maybe it's all different, uniquely, somehow?

  • Comment number 20.

    How do you know who is jamming? How do you detect jamming and its precise source? How do you detect electronic interference, including the motivation? Incidentally this article, til now, is not reading "impartially".
    I join you in strongly condemn these acts of censorship and harassment - whether they are initiated by the east or the west, and I believe the west is just as guilty, if not more.

  • Comment number 21.

    This is the one statement in your article with which I can agree totally: I join you in urging countries where jamming, censorship and harassment emanates from, to STOP these restrictive practices - be it an eastern country or a western country.
    The BBC has done some reporting that deserves credit for excellence, but it has also, sometimes, leaned towards bias and in that bias lost the truth.

  • Comment number 22.

    Today, on World Press Freedom Day, I echo your appeal for all governments - east & west - to put maximum pressure on those who seek to block access to verified and independent news because only the truth can set us free.

  • Comment number 23.

    BRUNO in Campo dei Fiori, Roma! There's a brilliant piece by Alan Johnston in today's news (One Thousand Statues of Rome) and this is directly relevant to freedom of speech. Read it and burn with the shame of centuries.

  • Comment number 24.

    Yes, the wrong place to comment, but there is no where else.
    re: Has any one had the thought that filling balloons with Hydrogen (flammable) instead of Helium (inert) may have something to do with this? Helium filled balloons do not burn? - just a thought......

  • Comment number 25.

    BBC "impartial" reporting is not what it was.

    I suggest you revisit the BBC reporting of the wire-fraud by Peter Gleick, ex Scientific Ethics chair of the AGU. The 'impartial' reporting of that was like watching a child ripping open the wrong Christmas present.

    If I can't trust BBC impartiality about science-environment reporting, can I trust BBC reporting that I never see in foreign countries?


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