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China 20 October 2008

Last-minute extension of more relaxed rules for foreign journalists

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the Chinese government’s announcement on 17 October that the more relaxed reporting rules for foreign journalists that were introduced temporarily last year, ahead of the Olympic Games, will become permanent. The rules, which give foreign journalists more freedom to travel, were due to have expired on 17 October.

“The expiry of these rules should have been the occasion for the government to allow even greater freedom of movement and freedom to interview,” Reporters Without Borders said. “An effective liberalisation policy implies real respect for the rights and interests of foreign journalists. These principles should apply at the local level. The authorities have repeatedly violated the rules since their introduction in January 2007.”

The decision was announced late Friday night - 15 minutes before the official expiry of the temporary rules - at a news conference called at the last moment by foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. “The new rules follow the major principles and spirits of the media regulations introduced for the Beijing Olympics,” Liu said.

As a result, foreign journalists will continue to be able - in theory at least - to move about freely in most of the country and conduct interviews without having to request permission in advance from the authorities. The exception is Tibet, for which special permission will be needed.

The 23-point regulations do however specify that foreign journalists must request and obtain a person’s consent before beginning to interview them, and must apply for a press card from the foreign ministry within seven days of arriving in China.

17.10 - What rights will the foreign press have?

Just hours before the expiry of the reporting rules for foreign journalists in China that were introduced in January 2007, Reporters Without Borders called today on the Chinese authorities to replace them with measures that provide even better and permanent protection for the foreign media’s work.

"The freedom of movement and freedom to interview that were permitted for the Beijing Olympic Games were an improvement for the international media in China," Reporters Without Borders said. "Although these rights were not sufficiently respected in the field, they nonetheless made it easier for foreign journalists to do their job.

"We are astounded by the government’s failure to say anything, right up to the last moment, about the fate of the international press. We had expected a bit more calm and transparency about a decision that affects thousands of journalists."

The press freedom organisation added: "The end of the temporary regulations should have been an opportunity to introduce rules guaranteeing real freedom of movement, including in Tibet, and freedom to interview people, including officials, combined with protection for the confidentiality of journalists’ communications and sources. The fate of Chinese journalists and interpreters who are employed by the foreign press is also still very precarious."

The reporting rules that were introduced for the foreign press and for the Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan press on 1 January 2007 are due to expire tonight. They allowed freedom of movement, which was previously restricted, and freedom to interview.

The rules have been widely violated in practice, according to figures compiled by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China. This Beijing-based association says it has been notified of 336 cases of interference in the work of foreign journalists since January 2007, including surveillance, arrests, physical attacks, denial of access and harassment of sources.

Questioned by a foreign journalist on 16 October, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the new rules would be announced soon.

PDF - 64.1 kb
Regulations on reporting activities in China by foreign journalists

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