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President Xi Jinping with staff members at the control room of China Central Television. Photo: CCTV

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For yet another year, China has managed to hold onto its traditional spot at 176 on the annual World Press Freedom Index, besting only the states of Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.

Released each year by the international media watchdog organization "Reporters Without Borders" (RSF), the index ranks 180 countries/territories according to the freedom allowed to journalists. In this year's write-up, RSF called China "the world's leading prison for citizen journalists."

The planet’s leading censor and press freedom predator, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the instigator of policies aimed at complete hegemony over news coverage and the creation of an international media order heavily influenced by China. In 2015 and 2016, many citizen journalists, bloggers, and human rights activists, including foreign ones, were arrested and forced into confession.

In violation of the “fundamental right to due process,” these confessions were broadcast by the state TV news broadcaster, CCTV, and were reported by the state-owned New China news agency. More that 100 journalists and bloggers are currently detained. They include the well-known journalist Gao Yu and three RSF Press Freedom laureates: Lu Yuyu, Li Tingyu and Huang Qi, the founder of the independent news website 64Tianwang.

Last year, President Xi made a high-profile trip to the headquarters of the country's state media outlets in Beijing, declaring that all media must be "surnamed Party" so that they can give "correct guidance of public opinion" by "singing the main theme, transmitting positive energy."

All of that singing and positive energy has allowed China to maintain its place in the middle of the bottom ten along with some infamously authoritarian states: 170. Laos 171. Equatorial Guinea 172. Djibouti 173. Cuba 174. Sudan 175. Vietnam 176. China 177. Syria 178. Turkmenistan 179. Eritrea 180. North Korea.

Meanwhile, Taiwan continues to solidify its status as having the best press freedom in Asia, moving up to 45th on this year's list, only two spots behind the United States. Hong Kong used to enjoy the continent's most free press, ranking 34th in 2010, but in recent years the city has been sliding down the list thanks to increased influence and interference from China. This year, Hong Kong ranked just 73rd.

RSF in a its previous report says the Chinese government is trying by any means it can to keep Tibet in a state of isolation from the media as the opening of the parliamentary session on 5 March approaches. The head of the Communist Party in Tibet, Chen Quanguo, has ordered local authorities to step up surveillance of all means of communication, particularly mobile phones and the Internet, in order to “maintain the public's interests and national security".

RS said it was alarmed at the blackout imposed by Chinese authorities on the provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai, as well as the autonomous region of Tibet, preventing all media coverage of protest movements there. To this we must add disinformation activities such as the recent hacking of the French-language weekly Courrier International by Chinese propagandists.

“Not only are foreign media organizations prevented from covering these events, but the authorities have also organized a veritable disinformation campaign, using pro-government media such as the Global Times, which play down the disturbances and accuse the international community of interfering. “Few media outlets are able to obtain first-hand information and fewer still manage to travel to the regions concerned.

“Out of sight of the world, a major crisis is unfolding. Even Pyongyang has an international media presence, which is not the case in Lhasa.” The press freedom organization added: “As in the past, the Chinese authorities aim to control the Tibetan people behind closed doors, excluding journalists, foreign ones in particular, who might be troublesome witnesses of what is happening.

As The Washington Post reported in 2013 that "the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China has been largely closed to the outside world since it was wracked by popular protests in 2008. But the extreme degree of its isolation is hinted at by this very revealing fact: There are more foreign journalists in North Korea than there are in Tibet."

That's according to Tibet scholar Carole McGranahan, who is a professor of the University of Colorado at Boulder and who made the point during a recent lecture at Yale University, video of which is embedded below. McGranahan discussed the rising trend of Tibetan self-immolations – a form of political protest against Chinese rule – and the challenge of understanding Tibet's turmoil.

Beijing's near-total isolation of Tibet, though, makes it awfully difficult for the outside world to see or understand what's happening there. Presumably, that's part of the point; Chinese rule in Tibet can be shockingly severe, as can the ongoing efforts to assimilate Tibetan people and culture into the rest of China, Washington Post reported.

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