PtG Article 10.08.2006

Foreign correspondents say China is not ready to host Olympic press corps

Two years before more than 20,000 international journalists are expected to go to China to cover the Beijing 2008 Olympics, a survey by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China shows that Chinese authorities frequently detain foreign reporters, and occasionally use violence against them and their sources.

The survey was carried out in spring and summer 2006 amongst foreign correspondents in Beijing. Between them, the journalists reported 72 incidents of harassment in the period from 2004-2006 including detention, physical harassment of journalists and sources, and confiscation of notes and images. 



Incidents reported to FCCC between 2004 and July 2006:

Total number of incidents: 72

Detentions (30 minutes to half a day): 38

Journalist turned away: 33

Physical harassment of journalists: 8

Physical harassment of sources: 2

Images or notes destroyed/confiscated: 21 

The President of the Foreign Correspondents Club of China is Melinda Liu, a reporter with Newsweek. She urges China to quickly adopt the practices of press freedom expected of Olympic hosts:

“China’s controls on foreign media are not in keeping with Beijing’s commitment to the International Olympic Committee to allow free coverage, and are an affront to the Olympic spirit,” says Liu in a press release.

In particular, she wants the Chinese government to abolish rules that are interpreted to make the reporting of sensitive social issues an offence and which also require foreign correspondents to get permission before making reporting trips outside of the cities where they are based.

“The number of journalists visiting China will be double that of athletes in 2008. We hope they will receive a warm welcome and would welcome more dialogue with the authorities to ensure that a more open media environment will be one of the lasting legacies of the Games,” says the FCCC President.

CPJ: Journalists in China face more pressure now

With the survey, the FCCC adds its voice to concerns that have also been raised by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In May this year, the committee pointed out that instead of gradually easing restrictions on journalists as the games approach, the Chinese government has stepped up interference in news reporting.

According to CPJ, journalists in China face more pressure now than at any time since the aftermath of events at Tiannanmen Square in 1989. At the end of 2005, China held 32 journalists in prison including some working for media organisations based outside China. One of them is Zhao Yan who is a researcher for the New York Times. He has been imprisoned since 2004 but has not been in court yet.

Chinese authorities intimidate those who help foreign journalists

Chinese authorities are not only clamping down on foreign reporters but also on the people in China who help them. Last year, Melinda Liu described how the authorities have perfected the art of intimidating, co-opting, detaining – or allowing attacks against – Chinese who help foreign journalists.

“It has a chilling effect on all of us. There is a proverb to describe this kind of tactic; it’s called “killing the chicken to scare the monkey,”” wrote Liu in a web commentary (link expired). 

In June this year, a Chinese land rights activist, Fu Xiancai, was left paralysed when police officers beat him up after he had given an interview to the German news station, ARD, criticizing the Three Gorges Dam.

Police said that Mr. Fu had broken his own neck but the incident led to severe criticism of the IOC from the German Green Party and Amnesty International for not doing enough to impress on the Chinese what their obligations are with regards to the media.