Beijing tightens censorship in new campaign against 'fake news'

Online content from newspapers and social media targeted. The government wants to silence "citizen journalists". Foreign reporters receive death threats from Chinese Communist Party Youth for their coverage of the floods in Henan. Censorship law in arrival in Hong Kong. Study: 350 fake social profiles discredit Chinese dissidents and opponents of the regime.



Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Chinese government has launched a new campaign against "fake news". Observers note that this is a new tightening of state censorship to control the online content of newspapers and social media. And above all limit the phenomenon of "citizen journalists".

China already has the most extensive and pervasive system of control of online information. Authorities had already tightened censorship in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan (Hubei).

Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who first raised the alarm about an unknown lung disease in the city, was silenced by police and authorities (he later died after contracting Covid-19).

Last December, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who had been reporting on Wuhan, was sentenced to four years in prison. Many governments have accused the Chinese of hiding the truth about the spread of the disease, slowing the global response to the health emergency.

Beijing's censorship move comes as the central government accuses the BBC of spreading false news about recent flooding in Henan. There are doubts about the official death toll: in the space of three weeks, authorities have gone from a count of 69 deaths to 302; local AsiaNews sources claim there are up to 10,000 deaths.

Reporters Without Borders report that Chinese state media journalists have targeted BBC correspondents in Henan. The humanitarian organization noted that the youth division of the Chinese Communist Party has posted online death threats to foreign reporters engaged in reporting on the floods in central China.  

The campaign against "false information" online will be carried out by 10 government departments. The Hong Kong executive is also in the process of passing a law against fake news. In the former British colony, freedom of the press and information has already suffered a major blow after last year's adoption of the National Security Act.

Analysts note that China's leadership feels the need to increase control of public discourse as the re-emergence of pandemic, natural disasters and U.S. hostility threaten the country's economic recovery. This is also in view of the 20th Party Congress, which will be held next year.

Some scholars might argue that one of the world's largest producers of fake news is the Chinese government. According to research by the Centre for Information Resilience, a network of 350 fake social profiles operates to discredit Chinese dissidents and opponents of the communist regime. The study by the non-profit organization - shared with the BBC - does not directly link these accounts with the Chinese authorities; however, its authors point out that the incriminated profiles resemble the pro-Beijing networks previously banned by Twitter and Facebook.