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Reporting Hurdle For Foreign Press in China

Posted by Author on August 9, 2007

Rowan Callick, China correspondent, The Australian, Austalia, August 09, 2007-

IN the run-up to the Olympic Games, the Chinese Government has broadened the freedom allowed foreign media to report in China but has extended controls over the domestic media. And the 30,000 “net police” continue to monitor, filter and at times prevent internet and email access in a continuing cat-and-mouse game with the country’s many independent voices and maverick bloggers.

Besides the 20,000 accredited journalists covering the Games, the Chinese authorities are expecting 10,000 non-accredited reporters: twice the number of athletes competing.

And this may prove an underestimate, with many arriving long before August to provide material for extensive preview series to be broadcast and published well before the sporting events begin.

The result by the time of the Olympics is likely to be a mass of voices and views on China, many critical and seeking to carve a distinctive approach because of the very immensity of the competition.

This presents a big challenge for a country whose entire media is in theory state owned, although the connections and controls have become rather remote in places where “the mountains are very high and the emperor is far away”.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which represents most of the 400 officially accredited international journalists in the country, has recently published a survey on the reporting environment.

Forty-three percent of respondents said it had improved since new regulations covering the foreign media came into force on January 1, but 40 per cent said they continued to experience interference in their reporting, citing 157 cases.

These included intimidation of sources, detentions, surveillance, official reprimands and violence against correspondents, their staff and sources.

FCCC president Melinda Liu, of Newsweek, said: “We welcome the progress that has been made”, especially in removing the former requirement that correspondents seek the approval of local government officials before working anywhere in the country. That rule is scheduled to be reintroduced along with other controls after the Olympics.

Liu urged the Chinese Government to accelerate efforts to eliminate all media restrictions and to ensure appropriate implementation of policies.

She said: “We’re especially concerned by many reports of intimidation of sources. A nation where citizens who speak to foreign correspondents face threats, reprisals and even bodily harm does not live up to the world’s expectations of an Olympic host.”

John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic committee, said on Tuesday, during a visit to Beijing, that the International Olympic Committee, of which he is a member, can only work with the host organisation and is not in a position to address such issues. It was up to governments to lobby on media freedom matters, he said.

Professional diplomat Sun Weide, deputy director of communications for the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, was at first reluctant to admit the BBC website was among many blocked in China.

But he then conceded that if internet users encountered problems in accessing the BBC, it was possibly because the organisation offered succour to Falun Gong, the Buddhist-derived religious movement that had become the Chinese Government’s No.1 enemy.

Liu Qi, BOCOG president, says in a 171-page service guide for foreign media covering the Olympics: “As the Beijing Olympic Games approach, the government in China, at all levels, and BOCOG will follow Olympic practice and honour our commitments to provide high-quality services to media organisations and journalists all over theworld.”

The BOCOG media office has established a one-stop shop for journalists to apply for visas, Customs clearance, permission to film relics, interviews with Chinese athletes, access to Olympic venues and satellite TV arrangements “based on the principle of being kind and friendly to the media”.

One of the problems facing the Chinese Government is that journalists covering the country – including many of those starting to arrive to prepare Olympic preview coverage – are not very interested in administrative arrangements.

The Chinese Government monitors international coverage, but its prime concern is overwhelmingly with what is available in written or spoken Chinese.

And in terms of the freedom of the domestic media, this has changed little in recent years. Some topics have been carefully opened up for greater scrutiny at certain times: recently, for instance, the environment. But other areas are policed even more strictly. Very little is known, for example, about the lives of China’s unelected leaders: even less than about their predecessors. Such doors remain closed. And China continues to hold more journalists in its jails than does any other country.

The Olympic Games naturally become a hook on which issues of pressing international concern are hung and China, because of its size and its authoritarian governance, is already attracting more interest in this respect than other recent Games.

Original report from The Australian

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