After online activists called for protests on 20 February 2011 in 13 Chinese cities, President Hu ordered the strengthening of ‘controls on the information Web' to maintain social order and to promote a harmonious society. Government and party officials understood the message loud a clear, enacting stronger information restrictions and greater media censorship, particularly online. Pressures on journalists, netizens and dissidents have grown, including a spike in summonses to appear before government officials. This comes as working conditions for foreign journalists have steadily deteriorated.
The issue is of particular concern in regions gripped by social or political unrest. Chinese authorities responded to an Inner Mongolia protest movement launched in May, 2011 with information blackouts and other repressive measures. Tibet, where nearly 20 monks have self immolated since March 2011, has essentially been cut off from connecting to the outside world. Foreign media is barred from covering events in the region while Chinese propagandists relay a full-scale disinformation campaign via pro-government media to denounce the international community's involvement. New leadership in China is unlikely to change the situation for Tibet. Xi Jinping, President Hu's announced successor, has promised to "smash" any attempts to "destroy stability" within Tibet.
The dubious distinction for President Hu comes as World Press Freedom Day, 2012 creates awareness for the growth of physical attacks against news providers. Reporters Without Borders reports a total of 21 journalists and 6 netizens and citizen journalists have been killed since the start of 2012, many of those in warzones such as Somalia and Syria. This translates to a rate of one news provider killed every 5 days.