China Media Bulletin Resources | Policy Recommendations

China Media Bulletin Recommendations for Policymakers and Media

China Media Bulletin Resources

Recommendations for policymakers, media, donors, and others

China is home to one of the largest and most complex media and information systems in the world. It is a system that often suppresses free expression but also provides opportunities for domestic and international actors to help protect and expand the basic rights of millions of people.

In recent years, a wide range of research entities, civil society groups, journalist associations, and even Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres have offered suggestions on how to advance freedom of expression and access to information related to China. This page provides a compilation of recommendations to implement not only within China but also in Hong Kong and beyond China’s borders. Click on the relevant section to view recommendations and related resources.

Chinese government and Communist Party

  • Prisoners: Immediately release all journalists, bloggers, and religious believers imprisoned for peacefully exercising the right to free speech; ensure that any such individuals remaining in detention are promptly given access to proper medical treatment. (IFJ, CHRD)
  • Physical attacks: Order officials at local levels to refrain from engaging in harassment or physical violence against journalists or their sources; investigate reported incidents and punish those responsible. (IFJ)
  • Prepublication censorship: Abolish the system of prepublication censorship, including directives that restrict reporting on breaking news stories; end the practice of terminating or otherwise punishing reporters or news outlets for covering matters of public interest. (CPP elders, IFJ)
  • Media ownership: Allow privatization of media ownership, possibly beginning with a pilot involving publications known for high-quality investigative reporting. (CCP elders)
  • Journalistic access: Allow access for journalists, including foreign journalists, to all parts of the country, including Tibet and Xinjiang; ensure that the visa process for foreign journalists is not used to punish individuals or news outlets for reporting that is critical of the government or party leaders. (PEN)
  • Internet censorship: End online censorship that blocks Chinese users’ access to global social media platforms and websites that provide news and information regarding political, social, religious, and human rights topics; end the practice of requiring social media providers to delete user posts or accounts on topics of public interest; end technological and legal restrictions on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). (PEN, CCP elders)
  • Legal standards: Implement international standards and recommendations from UN bodies and experts regarding freedom of expression, encryption, and surveillance; repeal stipulations in national legislation, such as the Cybersecurity Law, that undermine freedom of expression and privacy or otherwise violate international standards. (IFJ, CHRD, PEN)

Hong Kong government

  • Domestic and international commitments: Uphold residents’ right to information and freedom of expression, as enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the territory has ratified. This includes protecting Hong Kong’s autonomy and free expression against encroachments from Beijing, and refraining from passing national security legislation that might infringe on these rights. (IFJ, HKJA)
  • Attacks: Promptly and thoroughly investigate all reported assaults on journalists and media owners and hold those responsible to account, while providing regular public updates on the status of investigations. (PEN, CIMA)
  • Public demonstrations: Ensure that Hong Kong police are fully trained on the rights of journalists and protesters during public demonstrations, and that journalists are able to cover protests without undue interference. (PEN)
  • Transparency: Ensure that officials, civil servants, and police representatives hold press conferences rather than closed-door briefings, disseminate information to the press in a timely manner, and answer questions posed by journalists from both traditional and digital media outlets. (IFJ, HKJA)
  • Licensing and freedom of information: Establish a transparent and independent process for licensing broadcast media and enact a freedom of information law. (PEN, IFJ, HKJA)

Foreign governments

  • Bilateral engagement: Consistently raise the issues of press freedom and internet freedom in China publicly and in private meetings with Chinese counterparts, including at the highest levels. Stress that universal rights like free expression apply to China; note the negative impact of certain policies or laws on foreign companies and China’s World Trade Organization commitments; urge the release of imprisoned journalists and free expression activists (see here for list); and highlight the harm done to Chinese citizens when reporting on topics of public concern—like health, safety, and corruption—is constrained. (FH, CECC, PEN)
  • Responding to violations: React vigorously and with strong diplomatic action to any violations of media freedom or free expression involving your citizens or media outlets from your country, including detentions in China, violence against journalists, restrictions on media access, blocking of websites, and efforts by Chinese diplomats to interfere with press freedom outside China. (CIMA)
  • Citizen engagement: Explore avenues for speaking to the Chinese and Hong Kong publics directly. Communicate factual information and policy statements directly to Chinese audiences via social media posts, “town hall” meetings, and embassy websites. When your own leaders visit China, insist on unimpeded foreign media access and opportunities to speak to domestic media without filters. (FH, PEN)
  • Targeted sanctions: Impose targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on individual Chinese officials involved in serious abuses against those who have exercised their right to free expression. Several countries already have legislation enabling such action. (FH)
  • Hong Kong: Monitor the Hong Kong government’s compliance with the ICCPR, particularly regarding press freedom, and exert pressure on the Chinese government to cease all efforts to interfere with free expression in Hong Kong or otherwise violate the Sino-British Joint Declaration. (PEN, CP)
  • Transnational suppression: Refuse to comply with Chinese government requests to suppress independent media or voices in your country, or to deport refugees who might be jailed or tortured in China for exercising internationally recognized rights, including free expression. Enforce or amend legislation and regulatory frameworks to ensure transparency surrounding Chinese state media activities in your country’s market and equal access opportunities for independent Chinese-language media. (CIMA, FH)

Foreign media

  • Editorial independence: Ensure that newsroom decisions are insulated from business considerations; weigh inclusion of an arbitration clause or other protective provision in advertising and financial agreements with Chinese government entities to fend off future pressure and protect journalistic integrity; undertake periodic independent reviews to ensure that editorial decisions are not unduly affected by political or commercial considerations. (PEN, CIMA)
  • Support for journalists and fellow news outlets: Offer practical and moral support to both foreign correspondents and Chinese news assistants who are targeted by the Chinese authorities for their work, including with physical attacks, visa denials, detention, harassment, and cyberattacks. Support other foreign news outlets and their journalists when they face pressure or harassment from Chinese authorities. (PEN)
  • Transparency: When possible, go public about pressure and other infringements on media freedom from the Chinese authorities, including cyberattacks; offer transparency on circulation and ownership structures, particularly for Chinese-language media in the diaspora. (CIMA)
  • Chinese readers: Take steps to actively ensure that stories of importance to readers in China are made accessible whenever possible, regardless of the subject matter’s sensitivity, including via translation and collaboration with anticensorship groups when foreign news websites are blocked. (PEN)
  • Propaganda inserts: Consider discontinuing agreements with Chinese state media—including the China Daily—that allow their content to be incorporated into mainstream foreign newspapers and websites; if retaining such agreements, label the content clearly to identify its authorship by a state-run news outlet, not just as a paid advertorial.

Technology firms

  • Government requests: Refrain as much as possible from complying with Chinese government requests that inhibit freedom of expression or might compromise the privacy and safety of users. Establish comprehensive policies to guide employees on how to respond to official requests. When dealing with Chinese government requests for user information or removal of content, comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Global Network Initiative’s Principles on Free Expression. (PEN, RDR)
  • Best practices: Conduct regular assessments to determine the impact of the company’s products and actions on user freedom of expression and privacy, and enable review of such assessments by the Global Network Initiative. Refuse to participate in China’s World Internet Conference unless it acknowledges respect for international standards, and reject any vision of internet governance that is inconsistent with those standards (RDR, PEN).
  • Transparency: Inform users of policies and processes for handling Chinese government requests—whether to remove content, restrict mobile phone applications, or hand over personal information—in a clear and accessible way, including in Chinese. Publish transparency reports on the volume, nature, and legal basis of requests and company responses. (RDR)
  • Legal challenges: Push back against extralegal or arbitrary requests for censorship or user information, including via Chinese courts; note potential problems in any pending legislation that might affect the rights of those using your services. (RDR)
  • Civil society collaboration: Support civil society groups and those who develop technological solutions for circumventing censorship or protecting user information; cooperate with them to monitor internet freedom developments in China and maximize users’ opportunities to access blocked social media platforms. (PEN)
  • Transnational reach: Ensure that any restrictions on information that are imposed as a result of Chinese legal enforcement do not affect other markets or restrict access to information or freedom of expression for people in other countries, including Chinese speakers.

Donors and philanthropists

  • Countering censorship: Support groups that develop and disseminate tools to enable Chinese users to access blocked websites, including from mobile phones. Consider creating an emergency fund that can be activated quickly during moments of crisis or political turmoil, when the number of people in China seeking uncensored information typically spikes. Support efforts to monitor, preserve, and recirculate censored content within China, including news articles and social media posts that have been deleted by censors. (FH, CIMA)
  • Investigative reporting: Provide funding for investigative reporting by both Chinese and foreign journalists on politically sensitive subjects in the public interest, ensuring that political pressure, financial challenges, and economic incentives do not prevent important, hard-hitting work from coming to light. In addition to investigations about events inside China, support should be offered for efforts to unmask CCP influence beyond China’s borders. (FH, PEN, NED)
  • Overseas Chinese media: Support independent or critically minded diaspora Chinese media and other offshore initiatives that aim to provide uncensored news and diverse political analysis to readers, viewers, and internet users inside and outside China. Such support can take the form of trainings, cybersecurity protections, or other forms of capacity building that are typically provided to independent media within countries. Ensure that such outlets are eligible for funding aimed at media freedom inside China, or consider allocating dedicated resources for these outlets. (CIMA)
  • Awareness raising: Support research and outreach initiatives that inform Chinese audiences about the censorship and surveillance apparatus, imprisoned journalists and online activists, the regime’s human rights record overall, and how democratic institutions function. Existing studies and surveys have shown that netizen awareness of censorship often yields a greater desire to access uncensored information, assist a jailed activist, or take steps to protect personal communications. (FH)
  • Hong Kong: Support civil society initiatives and independent media in Hong Kong that protect and enhance press freedom in the territory by monitoring developments, challenging infringements via the legal system, or reporting on politically sensitive topics that might trigger self-censorship at outlets with close ties to Beijing. (PEN)

Educators and university administrators

  • Curriculum: When teaching about modern China, include a unit on its media and internet system, which is critically important to the country’s economic and political development. Offer readings, resources, and accounts that inform students about the nature of restrictions on free expression. In international relations courses, provide content on CCP influence outside of China, particularly the use of economic power and incentives to achieve political censorship goals.
  • Cooperation: University leaders should convene regularly to discuss concrete cooperation and the development of common procedures and best-practice standards to address the various challenges that Beijing can pose to free expression on campuses. Topics to consider include protecting academic freedom, responding to bullying of lecturers or students who express views contrary to the party line, Chinese government surveillance or intimidation of overseas Chinese students, Confucius Institutes, and Chinese Students and Scholars Associations. (China Matters)
  • Confucius Institutes and Classrooms: Educational institutions that host Confucius Institutes or Confucius Classroom programs should consider closing them and seeking alternative funding for Chinese-language instruction, as recommended by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the American Association of University Professors. Colleges and school districts that retain such Beijing-backed programs should push for reforms to increase transparency, separate budgets, ensure compliance with nondiscrimination policies in hiring, and take other steps—including renegotiation of contracts—to reduce their negative effects on free expression and democratic standards. (NAS)