China identified as foreign news priority by British broadcasters

The BBC has indicated that China is a "priority for investment" following the announcement last week that Lindsey Hilsum is to be Channel 4 News' firstever China correspondent.

Other senior figures in the industry have indicated that China is now seen as being in the "premier league" of news stories. The BBC's international editor, Jon Williams, said: "We've already identified China as a priority and we keep all of our deployments under review.

"This is only my seventh week in this job, but, for me, China is a priority for investment."

Channel 4 News said that sending respected international editor Hilsum to China underlined the importance that they are placing on stories from the country.

Editor Jim Gray told Press Gazette: "The China story is going to become one of the strongest and hardest stories in international affairs over the next few years.

"That is part of the reason I am sending Lindsey. If you have someone like her reporting, it reinforces the priority that you place on that story."

According to Hilsum, the British media is only just beginning to wake up to how significant China is and she said that, for too long, the country has been consigned to the business and economics segments of the news.

Although she acknowledged that there are some "really great" reporters currently working in China, she said that, in Britain, the media was yet to "bring home" to readers just how important China is and how it is changing the world.

Whether it be the Iran nuclear issue or the ongoing situation in Darfur, she said that China's impact on international affairs was a fact that can no longer be ignored.

Hilsum said: "I see this important and growing role of China. That was one of the main reasons why I felt I wanted to go there and spend some time reporting from inside the country."

On the issue of press freedom, she said: "The Chinese government at the moment is very keen that ITN should open a bureau there for both ITV News and Channel 4. I hope that we will be able to report a lot.

"But I'm not naive. I know that there are all sorts of sensitivities involved and the kind of reporting that Western reporters like to do is going to be hard, but it's really important that we do try."

Sky News' Dominic Waghorn, who has been reporting from Beijing for more than two years, told Press Gazette that there are numerous obstacles posed to journalists by the Chinese government's "strict media machine".

He said: "It's not on a plate like it might be in Washington, for example, where you're constantly courted by people trying to sell you ideas, information and stories."

He also said that Western journalists sometimes had to go to great lengths to protect their Chinese staff by trying not to involve them when working on any controversial or sensitive stories.

He said: "We try not even to tell them about it too much in the office because it is inconvenient for us and what goes on can be sinister and intimidating, but compared to what Chinese journalists go through, this is absolutely nothing."

Waghorn said: "If you want to do your job here in China, as a journalist, it is effectively rendered illegal by the strict laws in operation here."

The BBC's Williams said: "The BBC website is blocked in China, the BBC World Service is jammed — we're well aware of the difficulties that working in China poses for journalists.

"But it doesn't mean that we either give up or look down our noses at the Chinese authorities."

He said that it was unrealistic for journalists to expect working conditions in China to be the same as they are in the West.

Williams said that the BBC bureaus across the world used different ways of operating in different places in order to fit in with local customs and sensitivities.

He said: "At the point at which you apply Western, Anglo-Saxon values to a culture like China, then you encounter problems."

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