Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

How free are reporters in China?

October 20, 2008

BBC
October 17, 2008

Rules that gave foreign reporters greater freedom during the Beijing
Olympics are due to expire. The BBC asked a range of reporters in
China what difference the rules have made to their working lives.

JAMES MILES, Correspondent for the Economist

"It was mainly a psychological difference, we had been widely
flouting the rules before, leaving Beijing to report in the provinces
without seeking advance approval as was officially required.

"So when the new regulations were introduced, we were still
travelling just as much but without the fear of the knock on the door
by the police, without the need to change from hotel to hotel to
remain under the radar screen.

"But we were still frequently encountering local officials who either
didn't know or said they didn't know about the new Olympic
regulations or were determined to ignore them.

"There was one remarkable incident, shortly after the new regulations
were introduced early last year, when I went to Henan province.

"As I expected, I was stopped by local officials. But I called the
Foreign Ministry in Beijing, and remarkably, the local officials
apologised to me and disappeared, leaving me with startled villagers
who said this was the first time they'd ever managed to openly speak
with foreign journalists.

"But since then, I've encountered the same kind of difficulties as
before the regulations. A few days ago, I was out in the western
region of Xinjiang, and was detained for several hours by local police.

"There are key parts in the country that remain very difficult to get
into, and the most obvious one is Tibet. Tibet wasn't mentioned
specifically in the Olympic regulations, in theory they apply to the
whole of China, but orally Chinese officials said Tibet remained
excluded and we still had to seek permission."

MICHAEL BRISTOW, BBC correspondent

"These rules were a small step forward in that they allowed foreign
reporters to legitimately travel across China without first getting permission.

"But, like many rules and laws issued by the Chinese central
government, they weren't always implemented properly.

We need these very minimal rules to be continued - and extended to
China's own journalists

Calum MacLeod, USA Today

"In fact, the Chinese authorities, whether in some far-flung village
or in central Beijing, would simply ignore the rules if it suited them.

"They often intimidate foreign reporters - by detaining them or
following them in unmarked cars - which prevents us doing our jobs.

"I was hassled by the authorities in Sichuan while trying to report
on the grief of parents who lost children during the earthquake.

"And, like other foreign news organisations, under these rules the
BBC was not welcome to roam Tibetan areas asking questions."

SHIOZAWA EIICHI, Reporter for the Japanese agency Kyodo News

"After the rules were introduced, we didn't need to get local
government permission to travel to places, so that made my life a lot easier.

"Before, if we had no permission, we feared getting caught by the
police. Once the rules came in, we could relax. Now we have to take care again.

"It's sometimes easier for me than it is for American or European
reporters in China, because I am Asian and can sometimes pass for
being Chinese.

"That means I can go to places that others would not be able to get
to because they would be detected. Last week I went to Xinjiang.

"One bad aspect of the regulations was that it made it more difficult
for us to interview local officials.

"Before the Olympic reporting rules, they would often organise events
that would allow us to meet them.

CALUM MACLEOD, China correspondent for USA Today

"After the rules came in, they said we could organise things
ourselves, which was not always easy."

"The biggest beneficiaries of these rules were TV and radio
journalists because they require more people and equipment to do
their jobs, and so are more visible.

"For the print media, it's easier to be less conspicuous.

"In the past, the rules stated that all foreign journalists needed
approval before interviewing people outside Beijing and Shanghai, but
these rules were largely ignored.

"What the new regulations did, in effect, was to legitimise reporting
activities that were already taking place.

When the Olympics arrived, despite the new rules, the Chinese
government was so nervous that they tightened up control

Barbara Luethi, Swiss TV

"Even while these rules were in place, I've still been detained in
local areas and had my reporting restricted by officials who did not
know the rules or did not care about them.

"But, as foreign journalists, it did mean we had a piece of paper to show them.

"We need these very minimal rules to be continued - and extended to
China's own journalists."

BARBARA LUETHI, Asia correspondent for Swiss Television

"These rules looked good on paper, but they weren't implemented properly.

"In Beijing, when I was stopped I could pull out the rule booklet and
tell the police I was allowed to be there.

"Or I could call the Foreign Ministry and they would tell the police
to let you go.

"But this didn't work in the countryside. When I went to a village to
do a story, I would be stopped anyway. My tapes would be confiscated
and would be taken to the police station.

"When the Olympics arrived, despite the new rules, the Chinese
government was so nervous that they tightened up control or made new rules.

"The authorities would also threaten interviewees. They would not
stop me, but this was another tool to control us."

Local journalists were not affected by the change in regulations, but
they, too, face restrictions in their work, especially when working
for state-run news sources.

Chinese journalist working for state-run media

(who wishes to remain anonymous)

"The government's attitude towards the media has always been on a
need-to-know basis.

"Officials feel that if they have something to say, they hold a press
conference. They have no need to answer journalists' questions
individually. They don't work to the media's timings.

"The Olympics itself will not bring changes overnight, regardless
whether its for the foreign or domestic media. It is just one among
many things that will only change gradually.

"The government has done things differently for the Olympics, but I
can't say whether they will regress or keep improving things after the Games.

"All I can say is, I haven't seen much change in how I do my job."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank