Reporters Without Borders said it took note of yesterday’s statement by State Council information office minister Cai Wu that the new rules for the foreign press that were introduced in January as part of the preparations for next August’s Beijing Olympics could remain in force after the games are over.
“So far this is just a promise like so many other promises that have been made,” the press freedom organisation said. “The authorities need to start respecting the new regulations first. We have monitored 65 cases of foreign journalists being arrested, beaten, prevented from doing a report or threatened since the new rules were supposed to take effect on 1 January. And the day before the minister’s statement, an Associated Press reporter was detained in southern China.”
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Cai said: “No document says that when this new regulation expires on 17 October next year we are going to return to the previous regulations. If practice shows that it will help the international community know better about China and if it is in the interests of China’s efforts of reform and opening up, it is not at all necessary for us to change a good policy.”
Jocelyn Ford heads the press freedom committee of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, which wants the new regulations made permanent. She told Reporters Without Borders: "The minister’s statement is encouraging. I would be surprised if China went back to tighter restrictions on foreign correspondents. But we are still waiting to see whether the regulations giving foreign correspondents reporting freedom will be more fully respected by Chinese authorities. In 2007 the FCCC received reports of 180 violations of the rules, ranging from surveillance of journalists to detentions."
This is not the first time that a Chinese official has hinted that the former regulations, under which foreign reporters had to request permission every time they wanted to travel within the country or interview Chinese citizens, would not be restored after the Olympics.
Wang Wei, a member of the Beijing games organising committee, promised in 2001 that there would be “total press freedom” before and during the games. But there have been many incidents involving foreign reporters this year and the Chinese media are still under the Propaganda Department’s control.
The latest incident was the arrest and expulsion on 26 December of an Associated Press reporter from a village in southern China where there have been protests again the confiscation of land for a power plant.