Angus Walker is China correspondent for ITV News, based in Beijing
People often say it must be very difficult to report from China. ‘Do you have a ‘minder’ who follows you around watching what you do?”
I have been asked on more than one occasion. No I don’t, China often feels like a very free country to report from.
That’s not to say our reports are not monitored by a state which censors what its citizens hear, see and read.
Since 2010 when I first started reporting from Beijing, I’ve covered stories like the success of China’s top tennis player Li Na, a drought in central China, the rescue of 500 dogs being transported to a slaughterhouse and of course numerous updates on the country’s thumping economy.
No problem reporting those stories. However, when it comes to politics, you soon find out you’re stepping over a ‘red line’.
My recent report on China’s so-called ‘black jails’ has led to my colleague being invited to ‘take tea’ with the Public Security Bureau.
A fairly friendly chat but he was left in no doubt that the plight of protesters being detained illegally was not a story we should be covering.
Although the uniformed police are, in my experience, polite, disciplined and efficient they are clearly not interested in the illegality of the detention centres, just focused on making sure we don’t report that ‘black jails’ exist.
Last year, at the same time as the Arab revolutions were raging, there were online calls for similar demonstrations on Chinese websites.
They led to an overwhelming response on the streets from the security services. We and fellow foreign reporters tried to cover the planned demonstrations.
Three journalists were bundled away by men in plain clothes in full view of uniformed units.
One reporter was kicked as he lay on the ground. Another was thrown into a van, the door repeatedly shut on his leg.
A few days later after the attempted so- called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ I was called to ‘take tea’.
It was a good-natured discussion but I was told to be careful who I interviewed.
Then after covering another planned protest a week later, I was invited to the Public Security Bureau again.
This time I was questioned interrogation-style, with a police cameraman filming my answers.
I was not alone, as almost every foreign reporter I know based in Beijing had a similar experience.
This year, two reporters trying to report from villages where there were demands for democratic elections were beaten up.
One journalist was stopped when his car was deliberately rammed.
In those cases it was the men in black, easy to spot with their close-cut hair and black jackets.
They’re said to be hired by local provincial administrations which use them to
stamp on dissent.
The domestic media are not, as we are used to in the West, a check and balance on government.
State-run newspapers and TV are told what they can and can’t say.
So you can see how it must seem outrageous to the authorities when foreign media report on issues that would otherwise be hidden from the rest of the world.