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Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2017



Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
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Freedom of the Press Scores

(0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Internet Penetration Rate: 

Key Developments in 2016:

  • Xi Jinping, the state president and leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), made high-profile visits in February to key state media outlets, where he called for all media to demonstrate strict adherence to the party line.
  • The government adopted a new cybersecurity law in November, and a series of other regulations that increased restrictions on internet communications, online publication, and video streaming were issued over the course of the year.
  • Authorities tightened control over news dissemination channels, including social media and mobile-phone applications, and suspended permission for websites to repost content from the prominent news site Caixin.
  • Although the total of 38 journalists behind bars at year’s end represented a slight decrease compared with 2015, at least 111 journalists, bloggers, online writers, activists, and members of religious or ethnic minorities were sentenced during 2016 to prison terms of up to 19 years for alleged offenses related to freedom of expression or access to information. 

Executive Summary

China is home to one of the world’s most restrictive media environments and its most sophisticated system of censorship. The ruling CCP maintains control over news reporting via direct ownership, accreditation of journalists, harsh penalties for online criticism, and daily directives to media outlets and websites that guide coverage of breaking news stories. State management of the telecommunications infrastructure enables the blocking of websites, removal of mobile-phone applications from the domestic market, and mass deletion of microblog posts, instant messages, and user accounts that touch on banned political, social, economic, and religious topics.

The already limited space for investigative journalism and liberal commentary shrank during 2016, continuing a trend of ideological tightening since Xi assumed the leadership of the CCP in 2012. A series of new laws and regulations increased internet censorship, including on the popular WeChat instant messaging tool and online video-streaming platforms. The year’s top priorities for censorship officials included protecting the reputations of leading figures, including Xi, and influencing coverage of health and safety issues, foreign affairs, and government wrongdoing.

Despite the mounting risks and obstacles, several prominent journalists, news outlets, and social commentators publicly criticized official efforts to increase media controls in 2016, while many citizens continued to seek out alternative means of obtaining and sharing uncensored content.


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