Skip to main content

Bloomberg News and the Tradition of Self-Censorship

Recently Bloomberg News has been widely criticised for allegedly censoring its own journalists in order not to upset the Chinese government. According to the New York Times, Bloomberg decided not to publish an investigative report that examined the financial ties between business tycoons and Chinese politicians. It appears that Bloomberg didn't want to risk alienating Beijing's leaders. Following previous reports by Western media that investigated the private finances of CCP cadres, the Chinese government had already signalled that a red line had been crossed. As a result, several journalists had been denied resident visas, and websites such as Bloomberg's had been blocked.

After Bloomberg's self-censorship was revealed, a veteran China reporter, Michael Forsythe, was suspended because he was suspected of having leaked information concerning Bloomberg's move not to publish the article on which he had been working for months.

Meanwhile Bloomberg has denied the allegations. However, this is not the first case of Bloomberg censoring itself in order not to infuriate certain countries' political leaders. One less known example of such practices occurred a few years ago in Singapore.

Despite being a democracy based on British common law, Singapore, led by the People's Action Party since 1963, has always had a difficult relationship with free media. In fact, a set of laws and regulations make sure that the Singaporean press and cyberspace are subjected to a high degree of government supervision.

Foreign media outlets, too, have been confronted with the power of the Singaporean establishment. Usually, Singaporean politicians will file lawsuits for defamation against journalists or media groups. From the viewpoint of Singapore's politicians, suing people who damaged their image is a legitimate way of defending their reputation against baseless accusations that may compromise the good name of the government. 

Bloomberg News belongs to those foreign media which had to practice self-censorship in order to survive in Singapore. In Transparency and Authoritarian Rule in Southeast Asia, Gerry Rodan relates how Bloomberg adjusted itself to the demands by Singapore's leadership: 

[I]t was the demonstration effect of continued recourse to legal action, or threats thereof, that was arguably the most potent factor in reinforcing the need to be cautious in the way business matters were reported - especially as this involved the GLCs [government linked companies]... This applied equally to online reporting as it did to hardcopy newspapers and magazines. Accordingly, an article on the site, 'How Far Can Singapore Inc. Get Out of Business', by Patrick Smith on 4 August 2002 promptly resulted in threatened defamation actions by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The matter was almost as quickly defused by an out-of-court settlement of S$595,000 and an apology on the Bloomberg web site for any insinuation of nepotism in the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister's wife, Ho Ching, to the new executive directorship of Temasek Holdings ... (Rodan 2005, pp. 87-88).

Bloomberg's chief editor Matthew Winkler explained that behind the decision was the concern that if Bloomberg lost the case this would threaten the jobs of 180 employees and a readership of 2,695 people in Singapore. Since no foreign publisher has ever successfully defended a libel suit against a Singaporean politician Bloomberg feared that it would not win the case. Subsequently, the controversial article was removed from the website and all other websites that had made use of it. Interestingly, Matthew Winkler is still Bloomberg's chief editor, and he was also involved in the recent case of self-censorship in China. The rationale behind the Singapore and China case seems to be exactly the same (ibid., p. 88).

The question now is: how should Western media react to government pressure? Is it better to cooperate in order to keep on working in those countries? Or should they quit altogether, perhaps leaving the job to free-lance journalists or independent news media? 


  1. It is Bloombergs decision. They are free to make their choice about what to publish, just as you are free to make your choice.

  2. It's a fair point. I agree, they are free to do what they want. However, people are also free to criticise their decision. As far as I'm concerned, I think that media that decide not to publish a report due to government pressure, without informing their audience about this, are not a reliable source of analysis and information. That is my view on the subject. I come from Italy, and it is notorious that media outlets in Italy are subject to government influence. That is why on the press freedom ranking of reporters without borders Italy is 57th (,1054.html). I think this is not a desirable situation.

  3. Do you think that the US government was involved in this decision by Bloomberg?

  4. No, as far as I can judge from the news I read there's no evidence of an involvement of the US government. What I understand is that Bloomberg practiced self-censorship because it feared being penalized by the PRC's government and by the Singaporean establishment.


Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

Will The Huawei Case Finally Awaken Democrats To The China Threat And The Danger Of Faux Free Trade Rhetoric?

Huawei Shenzhen office building (by Raysonho  via Wikimedia Commons) On January 28 the Department of Justice of the United States unsealed two cases against Huawei , China's largest telecommunications company, and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.  Huawei has been accused of trying to steal trade secrets, committing bank fraud, breaking confidentiality agreements and violating sanctions against Iran. One indictment claims that Huawei attempted to steal trade secrets from T-Mobile by promising bonuses to employees who collected confidential information. Huawei is not a company like any other. Over the years it has benefited enormously from the support of the Chinese Communist regime. The founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, joined China's army during the Cultural Revolution . In 1978 he also joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  In the early years Huawei's sources of capital were high-interest loans (20%-30%) from Chinese state-owned enterp

Washington Post correspondent in China Gerry Shih assaulted for walking with Caucasian European

Gerry Shih, a China-based correspondent for the Washington Post, was assaulted on a Beijing street for "walking with a Caucasian European," according to a Tweet he posted on November 29. The assailants allegedly shouted at them: "F*** your American embassy!" Sign of the times: roughed up in Beijing street tonight for walking with Caucasian European. Neither of us said we were American but their parting shot was “操你美国使馆” — Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) November 29, 2019 In recent years the Chinese Communist regime has intensified its anti-foreign rhetoric as Xi Jinping has sought to consolidate the power of the Party and rid China of perceived "foreign influence". Foreigners in China have been targeted by the government and anti-foreign sentiment has been enouraged. This year arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China have increased amid a government campaign to promote "patriotic education." An inc

China releases anti-Uighur propaganda film "Black Hand"

Mosque in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, as photographed in 2008 (photo by jun jin luo via Wikimedia Commons) The People's Republic of China (PRC) has released a propaganda video titled "The black hand — ETIM and terrorism in Xinjiang", in an attempt to shape the narrative surrounding its crackdown on the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority. The propaganda film links the Uighur population to Islamic terrorism, thus trying to justify the indiscriminate persecution of the entire Muslim population. "For decades, the [East Turkistan Islamic Movement] which has close links with international terrorist organizations perpetrated countless terrorist attacks aiming to separate the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region from China," writes China's state-run television network CGTN. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, was reportedly founded by Hasan Mahsum, an Uighur from Xinjiang's Kashgar region. He was shot dead by Pakistani troops in 2003. In 2002 the Unite