World Association of News Publishers

Awards for environmental journalism in China against a backdrop of press restrictions

Awards for environmental journalism in China against a backdrop of press restrictions

Article ID:


There’s plenty of bad news available about the Chinese press. Rated as the sixth lowest-performing country on Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, China is famous for targeting journalists, bloggers and social media users who write about subjects that its leaders would rather were kept quiet. Recent restrictions imposed on microblogging services owned by Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd and general attempts by the authorities to restrict online conversation about disgraced Communist party leader Bo Xilai are just the latest examples.

Yesterday, however, saw the announcement of the 2012 China Environmental Press Awards winners, highlighting that against the background of censorship, some hard-hitting, investigative stories are being produced in China on certain subjects. The Guardian picks out the example of citizen journalist Liu Futang, a retired government employee, who wrote an exposé on the destruction of endangered trees to make way for a yacht marina. "The degradation is terrible," says Liu, who is quoted by The Guardian. "The local media hasn't written a single word, but I've posted 40 articles that have been followed up by newspapers and TV from across the country."

The awards, which were presented yesterday for the third year running, are the result of a collaboration between The Guardian and China Dialogue, an independent website with headquarters in London and Beijing that is dedicated to publishing news and debate about environmental issues. This year the awards were also given in partnership with the online media company Sina, which runs the mircoblog Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Other winners include Feng Wei, of Yunnan Information Daily, who was awarded the “Best scoop” prize for an article revealing illegal dumping of toxic chromium tailings near a Yunnan reservoir, and Feng Jie, of Southern Weekend, who won the journalist of the year prize for her series of articles on the Bohai oil spill, published two months before the official report was released.

While highlighting this good work, China Dialogue is not completely free from restrictions itself, however. Its website specifies that its comments are “pre-moderated by a network of volunteers to ensure that chinadialogue remains open and accessible to readers inside mainland China.”

But the ground may be shifting. The Guardian writes that, “while many participants cited censorship as the biggest problem facing Chinese journalists, the spread of microblogs has made it far more difficult for the authorities to control the flow of information, which is now coming from so many different and unexpected directions.”

China’s attempts to control online news have been heightened in recent weeks, as authorities try to prevent Internet users from discussing the suspension of senior Communist party member Bo Xilai, whose wife has been detained on suspicion of the murder of British citizen Neil Heywood, as the BBC describes.

As reported earlier by the Editors Weblog, Chinese bloggers found ways to circumvent the official ban on talking about Bo by discussing his suspension through code words. However, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported yesterday that these codes have now been forbidden as well, and even the name of Chongqing, the municipality that Bo ran as party secretary, is now restricted.

The problems have not stopped here. The Wall Street Journal China reported today that Chinese residents have complained on Thursday morning of not being able to access certain websites that are normally accessible though China’s firewall. The Journal writes that services were more or less restored by 1pm local and the cause of the disruption has remained unclear, but “the episode did illustrate just how jumpy China watchers and Chinese Internet users have become in recent days.”

Sources: Reporters Without Borders, GuardianCPJ, China Dialogue (1) (2) (3), Wall Street Journal (1) (2), BBC


Hannah Vinter's picture

Hannah Vinter


2012-04-13 14:15

Author information

In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...