Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about a series of incidents that show that some officials within the state apparatus have no intention of respecting the new regulations for foreign journalists. In the past few days, a BBC crew was expelled from a city in the central province of Hunan, the correspondent of a website based abroad was banned from working and two news media were prevented from covering the recent People’s Congress meeting.
"The government clearly has not done all that is necessary to ensure that the correspondents of foreign news media really are able to move about and work freely," the press freedom organisation said. "What was the point of proclaiming new regulations if they are not respected?
Reporters Without Borders added: "We call on the government to sanction those who prevent journalists from working and to remind officials at all levels about the new rules. A lot remains to be done to ensure that press freedom is guaranteed before the Beijing Olympic Games."
The organisation also voiced outrage about public security minister Zhou Yongkang’s call on 19 March for the police to reinforce the crackdown on "hostile forces" (meaning religious sects and separatist movements) in order to create a "harmonious society" before the Olympic Games.
James Reynolds and another BBC World Service journalist went to Zhushan, in Hunan province, on 15 March to report on rioting that had just taken place there in protest against an increase in public transport fares. They were able to enter the city, see the damage and interview residents. While trying to find out more about the rumoured death of a student, they were arrested by several policemen and soldiers and were taken to a hotel room, where they were questioned by six officers, filmed and photographed.
Two senior officers then admonished them for failing to get permission before going to Zhushan. "You are not in the United States or Britain," one of them said. One of the journalists explained that the government has just introduced new regulations that allow foreign journalists to move about freely in China. "That is just for stories linked to the Olympic Games and I don’t think you came here for the Olympic Games," the officer replied.
Reporters Without Borders is outraged at the way Sun Lin, a contributor to the US-based news website Boxun and founder of the banned newspaper Da Du Shi, had his press card withdrawn. A foreign ministry representative in the eastern city of Nanjing went to Sun’s home on 16 March and ordered him to stop writing. Sun, who is better known by his pen-name, Jie Mu, told Reporters Without Borders he had written about abuse of authority but did nothing illegal.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to return his press card and to allow the correspondents of Chinese news websites based abroad to work without impediment.
The authorities have still not specified whether the new freedom of movement rule also applies to Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Some correspondents recently visited these regions without problem, although foreigners still need to have special permission. Reporters Without Borders calls on the government to clear up this uncertainty and to open these regions to the press.
The Beijing Olympic Games organising committee promised complete press freedom, but the central and local authorities are stepping up their control of the Chinese media. The municipality of Pingdu in the eastern province of Shandong, for example, ordered all of its departments to reduce "negative reporting" to the minimum. Writers and artists are also being censored more. On 19 March, a Beijing court rejected a complaint by writer and former journalist Dai Huang against the General Administration of Press and Publications for banning a reissue of one of his books. Another writer, Zhang Yihe, has also referred the banning of his book to the courts.
At the end of January, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered TV stations to stop broadcasting films and programmes on prime time that run counter to "Communist Party values." The media were also forbidden to cover the anniversaries of Communist Party leaders and historic events without prior permission.
This month’s meeting of the People’s Congress in Beijing was marked by the refusal to give accreditation to some journalists. Neither the Chinese-language section of the BBC World Service nor Taiwan’s Apple Daily newspaper were allowed to cover this political event. Nonetheless, most foreign journalists were able to freely interview parliamentarians and experts for the first time.
The business magazine Caijin, a favourite source of news and information for the international community, was forced to censor an article on the adoption of new private property legislation and to withdraw articles from its website. Censorship has also affected foreign TV stations such as CNN, part of whose interview with Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang was blacked out on 10 March.
The Chinese media also censored parts of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s annual news conference when he fielded questions on sensitive issues from foreign reporters, such as a French journalist who asked him about former party leader Zhao Ziyang, who died in disgrace.
Changes to adopt in order to be able to host the Olympic Games in an acceptable manner:
1. Release journalists such as Zhao Yan and Ching Cheong, as well as Internet users detained in China for exercising their right to information.
2. Rescind the restrictive articles in the Foreign Correspondents Guide, especially articles 14 and 15, which limit the freedom of movement of foreign journalists.
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.