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Free speech in China: ‘The environment has gotten a lot worse’

June 5, 2015
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China has taken a few steps backwards in recent years when it comes to free speech and civil liberties, says Louisa Lim, visiting professor of journalism in communications studies at the University of Michigan.

Lawyers and rights activists have been jailed. Journalists and their sources have faced intimidation. Some have been assaulted and threatened – sometimes at gunpoint.

“Unfortunately, the environment has gotten a lot worse for journalists in China overall,” says Lim, author of The People’s Republic of Amenesia: Tiananmen Revisted.

China is also exporting its censorship tactics, Lim says, and some countries are bowing to Beijing’s dictates. She said one-fifth of the foreign journalists based in China have said that their bosses have been pressured by Chinese diplomats, who demanded changes in coverage or the avoidance of certain issues.

A former reporter for BBC and NPR, Lim covered China from 2003 to 20113 before she came to U-M to do the Knight-Wallace Fellowship for mid-career journalists. She said the environment improved during the run-up to the Beijing Games in 2008. But the climate worsened after the Olympics.

“But we didn’t see the kind of intimidation that we see today,” she added.

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