Authorities in northern China’s Tangshan city obstructed state media reporters after they attempted to follow up on a crackdown on organized crime in the city, sparked by thugs beating women in a barbecue restaurant earlier this month, social media reported.

In a video on Weibo, a woman faces the camera like a newscaster and presents a video clip of a reporter from Guizhou who tried to cover the anti-gang campaign in Tangshan, known as Operation Thunderstorm.

“I’m a journalist,” said the woman. “According to the Journalists Regulations, journalists who hold a press card are protected by law while carrying out their reporting duties. Individuals and organizations are prohibited from interfering with or harassing a journalist or an organ of the press in the exercise of lawful reporting activities.”

“Despite this, journalists who travel to Tangshan to cover the campaign against organized crime face obstructions from the campaign itself.”

In the video clip, the Guizhou reporter said he was shoved and roughed up by the police.

“A policeman yelled at me, twisted my neck, violently squeezed my hair, told me to kneel down and put my hands behind my back,” the man says in the video clip . “Four or five police surrounded me and searched me.”

“They confiscated my cell phone, power bank and other items.”

He added: “When I showed my press card, a policeman came into the interrogation room where they were holding me and yelled at me… calling me unqualified… and ignorant.”

Targeted reporter

Weibo user @Brother_He,_Shaanxi commented that such behavior was more appropriate for “catching criminals”.

“But unfortunately, Tangshan police did not target underworld forces this time, but a reporter who had a press card,” the user wrote.

“According to various media, it is very difficult to enter Tangshan now. When you arrive at Tangshan Railway Station, you cannot move freely. You must take a designated vehicle, and you must take a photo with the car before entering. leave.” the post said.

The woman in the video also quoted a reporter from Phoenix who said authorities in Tangshan deleted all of his video footage, saying he was there to “make money”.

“What’s even more shocking is that you’d think they’d take care of a little more [state broadcaster] CCTV, but that several CCTV news vehicles were destroyed,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s right. CCTV news vehicles. Pretty outrageous, huh?”

@Albert_Qiang commented, “Tangshan is rebelling!” while @Cai_Xukun’s mother-in-law wrote, “Isn’t it a joke asking the police to chase criminal gangs? It’s a criminal gang.”

“Operation Thunderstorm is jamming news with its thunder,” user @Hongru_hrh joked, while @JOHN-976 added, “If you can’t fix the problem, then sue people asking about the problem.”

The reports drew criticism from reporters Professor Liu Qingyue of the Department of Media Studies at Beimin University in central Hubei Province, who wrote on the Chinese Communist Party-backed account Jinri Toutiao (PCC) in power, that “a press card is not a pass to all areas.”

Social media backlash

Liu said reporters should think about their own behavior when visiting a sensitive area, prompting an angry reaction on social media.

Veteran journalist Cheng Yizhong, who edited the once forward-thinking Southern Metropolis Daily, said Liu was simply acting as a “mouthpiece” for CCP policy.

“What this professor said has exactly the same tone as the CCP’s propaganda department,” Cheng told RFA. “She’s just a mouthpiece.”

“The CCP has already eradicated all … possibility of press freedom in China … and the journalism departments of universities have been fully aligned. [with the government],” he said.

Cheng said all reporting is considered political in the eyes of the CCP.

“After an incident like the one in Tangshan occurs, local news agencies will receive a ban from local authorities, usually communicated by telephone or verbally, warning news agencies not to report on their own, but to rely on an approved copy released by the Controlled News Media Center,” Cheng said.

News commentator Johnny Lau, who once worked as a journalist in Beijing, said reactions to Liu’s comments indicate growing public dissatisfaction with official controls on free speech.

“The CCP controls the media and public speech, not only through its mechanism of repression, but also through its management of public opinion…which means that it controls a group of people who will approve of official policy,” Lau told RFA.

“The Backlash [against Liu’s comments] is part of the public dissatisfaction with the entire CCP public opinion industry,” he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.