PtG Article 22.12.2006

China relaxes rules on foreign reporters in the run-up to the Olympics

China has issued a new set of rules for foreign journalists who want to cover issues in China up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. According to a spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry, foreign reporters will be allowed to travel anywhere in the country without prior permission from local authorities.

The new regulations will come into force on 1 January 2007 and expire two months after the Olympic Games in 2008. Entitled ”Regulations on reporting activities in China by foreign journalists during the Beijing Olympic Games and the prepatory period”, the new rules is an attempt by the Chinese government to live up to its promises of greater press freedom during the Olympic Games - also on topics not directly related to the Games.

Key in the new regulations is article 6 which stipulates that in order to interview organisations or individuals in China, journalists need only to obtain the interviewee’s prior consent.

Rowan Callick, a China correspondent for The Australian, explains that to date, the Foreign Ministry bureaus of local and provincial governments have required foreign journalists to obtain prior approval to come into their districts and journalists have frequently been refused access.

From January 2007, foreign journalists - whether they reside in China or not - can set up interviews with whoever they want and will not necessarily have to be accompanied or assisted by a Chinese official when reporting, the director of the Information Department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, said at a press conference.

Mr Liu also pledged that the central government would communicate the new regulations to local and provincial authorities, who, being far from Beijing, tend to take the law into their own hands. According to The Australian, the ministry will set up a helpline that journalists can call if they run into problems with local authorities.

A question of implementation

Melinda Liu is president of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in China and she welcomes the new regulations with a degree of caution.

”The proof of how valuable the new regulations will be depend on their implementation,” she says to the Christian Science Monitor.

Cam MacMurchy writes from China for the Canadian newspaper Times Colonist and he reports that Beijing's propaganda department has already been working behind the scenes to ensure no negative news about China is spread because of an influx of foreign journalists inside its borders. An edict has been issued to Beijing newspapers urging employees to avoid granting interview requests to foreign media unless it falls under certain strict criteria. And these rules are slowly filtering their way down to regular Beijingers.

”The government can allow journalists to ask for interviews without state permission, but it can also control whether people agree to be questioned. Or as my friend put it: "They can't control foreign journalists, but they can still control the Chinese," MacMurchy writes.