Reporters Without Borders today condemned recent decisions by the Chinese authorities to create files on foreign journalists, reinforce Olympic Games propaganda efforts and reject any possibility of increased access for foreign news agencies to the Chinese market.
As a result of an outcry, the authorities have now denied the existence of any such files and are blaming a “bad journalist” employed by the state media. But everything suggests that the government is compiling files on many journalists and human rights activists in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
“After the Communist Party of China congress, we had been hoping for significant measures to improve press freedom before the Olympics,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Instead, the government and organisers of the games have decided keep files on foreign journalists, supposedly in order to identify ‘fake’ ones. Keeping files on journalists opens the way for every kind of abuse.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We are also outraged by the Propaganda Department’s orders to the Chinese media about coverage of preparations for the games. This dashes our hopes of greater editorial freedom in the run-up to next August. When the organisers of the games and the Beijing authorities misbehave in this manner, the International Olympic Committee should react and should firmly remind them of the undertakings given in 2001.”
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that the Propaganda Department last week sent a directive to the leading Chinese news media asking them to avoid publishing negative stories on matters affecting the games such as air pollution, a dispute over Taiwan’s inclusion in the Olympic torch relay, and public health issues.
The government newspaper China Daily meanwhile reported that the authorities, in particular the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) was compiling files on the approximately 30,000 journalists expected to get accreditation for the games.
The official reason given was the need to identify “fake journalists” and to help Chinese officials respond to interview requests. But the government has not said what kind of information will be gathered. The GAPP has been campaigning against “fake journalists,” accusing them of being a “threat to society,” and Liu Binjie, the minister in charge of the GAPP, has promised they will be severely punished.
A campaign was launched in August against “fake journalists” who use bogus accreditation with foreign news media, including Hong Kong media, to practise extortion and disinformation. Reporters Without Borders is aware of four recent arrests of “fake journalists.” The most recent case was this week in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where those arrested were two of the editors of The Social News, a newspaper regarded by the authorities as illegal. It is very hard to independently verify the facts when the authorities accuse journalists or news media of being fake.
The authorities have just announced that this campaign, which is due to continue until March, has netted 150 “fake journalists” and 300 unlicensed news media. Several independent journalists and Chinese intellectuals have condemn a new crackdown on journalists who are not directly affiliated to any news organisation or to China’s sole official journalists union.
Finally, the authorities have refused to relax the regulations on foreign news agencies operating inside the country. In response to questions by the European Union, Canada, Japan and the United States before the Word Trade Organisation, China said yesterday that it had not signed any provision requiring it to open up the business news market.
When the government reinforced the state news agency Xinhua’s control over the distribution of foreign news agency content in China in September 2006, Reporters Without Borders described Xinhua as a predator of free enterprise and the freedom to report the news.