Is it ethical for China to ban all American press from reporting about COVID-19?


Fact Box

  • On March 18, 2020, China revoked press credentials for 13 journalists hailing from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, announcing they were to be expelled from reporting in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau [1].
  • China claims this is in defense to “unwarranted restrictions on Chinese media agencies” [2]. 
  • In China, an estimated 120 journalists and bloggers are detained in life-threatening conditions, and any citizen can be jailed for making certain comments on news items or sharing posts on social media [3].
  • Sovereignty is defined as “supreme power especially over a body politic” and “freedom from external control” [4]
  • The Chinese government recently introduced a whistleblower hotline within the WeChat messaging app in order to foster more transparency about the handling of the coronavirus epidemic. [5]

James (No)

China picked a horrible time to expel American journalists. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 250,000 people worldwide and killed more than 11,000. That includes more than 3,000 deaths in China's Hubei Province, where the virus was first discovered.

Multiple reports describe China's decision to kick out journalists as politically-motivated, and it is clearly so as they wish to obfuscate their blame for the viral spread.

According to reports, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended the decision as 'necessary and reciprocal countermeasures,' taken in response to 'unreasonable oppression' in the United States. However, US journalists saw things differently. In a statement, Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray told CNN, 'China's unprecedented attack on freedom of the press comes at a time of unparalleled global crisis. Trusted news reporting from and about China has never been more important.'

Accurate information from China could be vital. For example, the United Nations has reported that China's COVID-19 is on the decline. China's quick response to the virus—locking down Wuhan in January—could help other nations understand what they need to do. WHO representative Dr. Gauden Galea told the UN that the 'containment was effective and did allow the rest of China to be able to contain the outbreak in a very effective manner.'

Under normal circumstances, political tension between the US and China might be forgiven. But these are not normal times. Journalists should be allowed to stay and report on China's success or failures in regards to the spread of the virus, whatever it might be. 

Greg (Yes)

China is a sovereign nation and is, therefore, ethically justified in disallowing the US press into the country to cover the coronavirus. They can disbar anyone from entering or residing in their country for any reason. And because China is sovereign, it has a right to control its borders, as it has for centuries, and does so now within the parameters of international law under the United Nations.

Likewise, China, as a player on the world stage, is allowed to control its image. The government can choose to disbar reporters if they determine it will hurt or distort their public perception. Though China continues to report verified numbers to the CDC, the government currently faces criticism from reporters and news outlets overseas. Because of the importance the government plays in its citizens' lives, China has a stake in this, and is justified in objecting to what others say regarding them. 

China reports they have drastically improved the effect of COVID-19 in Wuhan and greater China. The death toll worldwide is now greater than in China. They have quarantined entire cities, demonstrating a commitment to ending the pandemic. The situation was previously dire, as the infection rate increased daily and panic soared over the illness. Yet, the chance that life will return to normal is very likely in China due to how the government handled the situation. China's diligence in this effort should be celebrated and not denigrated just because the US can no longer report on the situation.

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