Reporters Without Borders today urged the organisers of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to act on all the promises they have made under international pressure to let the foreign press operate freely during the games.
Yesterday, for example, Wang Wei, the deputy chief of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games (BOCOG), said accredited journalists would be able to work freely outside of Beijing. Responding to a journalist’s question in Hong Kong, Wang said: “They will [be able to report outside of Beijing]. That will not be problem as long as the people agree to be interviewed.”
But none of the existing, restrictive regulations have so far been changed.
“We call on Liu Qi, the head of the BOCOG, not to disappoint the international community’s expectations as regards press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After promising so much, it is his duty to completely overhaul the laws on the media. Despite the alluring announcements, no action has been taken and the authorities seem to be confusing material facilities with press freedom.”
The organisation added: “It will be unacceptable if the many restrictions on the work of foreign journalists and on the free flow of information are lifted just a few days before the 2008 games. What is needed is a thorough reform and changes in the way the government and party regard news. Furthermore, we fear that China’s liberal press and dissidents will be harassed by the authorities before, during and after the games.”
The organisers, above all Liu, who is also secretary of the Communist Party’s Beijing municipality committee, have been forced by the international criticism to promise to ease restrictions on foreign journalists. In August, for example Liu said he would next year draft rules allowing unrestricted coverage of the 2008 games. But he did not say if the Foreign Correspondents Guide would be scrapped in its present form.
The organisers have promised that accredited journalists will not need visas (standard practice during Olympic Games), will not have to pay import duty on their equipment, will have modern press centres and will be issued temporary driver licences during the games. Wang also promised that the events would also be broadcast live, without the time-delay that is normally required for live broadcasts in China.
Since Liu gave these undertakings, two journalists working for foreign media - Zhao Yan of the New York Times and Ching Cheong of the Singapore-based Straits Times daily - have been given prison sentences for investigating sensitive subjects. And a reporter for a Hong Kong daily was beaten by security guards inside the Beijing parliament.
BOCOG vice-president Jiang Xiaoyu has said the government is ready to amend the regulations for the foreign press in order to ensure the games take place without any problems. “If there are differences between our norms and international and Olympic norms, it will be the latter that prevail in the service that will be offered,” Jiang said. But then he added: “Of course, all the media will have to comply with Chinese laws and regulations.”
The International Olympic Committee meanwhile does not go much beyond expressing its desire to ensure free access for accredited journalists. Its president, Jacques Rogge, did make a timid reference to the human rights situation in China in April.
Violations of the rights of foreign and Chinese journalists are still extremely frequent in China. According to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, at least 72 incidents involving foreign reporters have occurred since China was entrusted with the Olympic flame in 2004.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call to the BOCOG to ensure that 10 crucial steps are taken to guarantee freedom of expression during the 2008 games:
1. Release journalists, including Zhao Yan et Ching Cheong, and Internet users detained in China for exercising their right to information.
2. Repeal articles in the Foreign Correspondents Guide that restrict the freedom of movement of foreign journalists, especially articles 14 and 15.
3. Withdraw censorship measures from the draft law about the management of crisis situations. 4. Disband the Publicity Department (the former Propaganda Department), which exercises daily control over content in the Chinese press.
5. End the jamming of foreign radio stations.
6. End the blocking of thousands of news and information websites based abroad.
7. Suspend the “11 Commandments of the Internet,” which lead to content censorship and self-censorship on websites.
8. Scrap the blacklists of journalists and human rights activists who are banned from visiting China.
9. Withdraw the ban on Chinese media using foreign news agency video footage and news reports without permission.
10. Legalize independent organisations of journalists and human rights activists.