The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), an organization that defends and promotes freedom of expression worldwide, has accused Taiwanese and Hong Kong media of complicity in China’s campaign to discredit its critics.

IFJ states that on Aug. 1, two Hong Kong outlets, the Oriental Daily and Phoenix Television, were granted exclusive rights by Chinese authorities to broadcast the “confession” of human rights lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), who had been in detention since July 2015 on allegations of subverting the state power. One hour later, the Shanghai-based online magazine The Paper also ran the “exclusive,” along with video footage of Wang’s “confession.”

In her “confession,” Wang denounced Zhou Shifeng (周世鋒), the head of the Beijing-based Fengrui law firm, which specializes in human rights cases and has been one of the main targets of China’s crackdown on activists, as an “unqualified lawyer.”

Wang was then released on bail, though it remains unclear the extent to which she is free.

Then between Aug. 2-5, five media outlets — the Oriental Daily, South China Morning Post, Sing Tao Daily, Phoenix Television and Want Daily — were granted access by the Ministry of Public Security’s press office to attend hearings at the Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People’s Court for prominent human rights activists Zhai Yanmin (翟巖民), Hu Shigen (胡石根) Gou Hongguo (勾洪國) and the aforementioned Zhou, who were all found guilty on charges of subverting state power and received jail sentences from three to seven years (Zhai’s and Gou’s sentences were suspended).

Zhai was among the 300 human rights lawyers and activists who were implicated in the past year amid the “709 crackdown” on legal activists; 20 or so are still in detention.

The organization points out that only media outlets that toe Beijing’s increasingly restrictive line on civil society and human rights in China were given access to the trials and confessions. By doing so, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to ensure that its efforts to vilify its critics, often through Cultural Revolution-style “struggle sessions” and televised trials, will receive prominence in Chinese-language media and serve to reinforce the conspiratorial claim that activists are part of coalition that is bent on destroying China.

And Beijing is not taking any chances with the relatively new phenomenon of televised trials and confessions, giving access only to safe media it knows will not cause it trouble.

“It is well-known that the management of these outlets have good working relationships with Mainland China authorities,” IFJ observes.

Want Daily, the only Taiwanese media allowed at the hearings, is part of business tycoon Tsai Eng-men’s (蔡衍明) Want China Times Group. Tsai, one of the richest individuals in Taiwan, made his fortune selling snacks and beverages in China and has turned his media empire into what many Taiwanese regard as a pro-Beijing mouthpiece. His (failed) attempt to acquire Next Media’s operations in Taiwan, including the Beijing-critical Apple Daily newspaper, in 2011 sparked large-scale protests. Want Daily has also often involved itself in cross-Strait forums and conferences organized by Chinese political/information warfare agents propagating a “one China” ideology.

“Genuine transparency is needed to ensure the media has free access to court and legal proceedings, which works to strengthen media freedom,” IFJ continues. “However, by only granting access to a limited number of media, the government is working to take control of the media, reporting and the image that is being portrayed.”

“This practice needs to cease immediately, and full access to information must be granted to all media and Chinese people,” it wrote.

(This article was updated on Aug. 17, 2016, 8:33am: IFEX attribution changed to IFJ.)

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White