Mr Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
Mr Wen Jiabao
Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China
Mr Sheng Guangzu
Minister of General Administration of Customs of the PRC
Mr Gao Siren
Director of Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in HKSAR
Mr Liao Hui
Director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs of the State Council
Mr Tian Congming
Chairman of All-China Journalists Association
Re: Concerns About Media Rules Raised at IFJ Regional Meeting, Hong Kong
We, the leaders and representatives of journalists’ associations and trade unions in the Asia-Pacific region meeting in Hong Kong on 12-13 February 2009, call on China’s Government to uphold press freedom and revoke newly implemented rules for Hong Kong, Macau and foreign journalists reporting on the Mainland.
In particular, we are concerned about new rules regarding press cards, the prior consent of potential Mainland interviewees and the imposition of a hefty “guarantee” on professional media equipment to be taken to the Mainland.
In the period leading up to and around the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the Central Government relaxed its prior requirement that journalists in Hong Kong and Macau seek the permission of the Central Government to travel to the Mainland for journalistic work. Under the special Games regulations (Article 6), non-Mainland journalists need only obtain oral consent from interviewees at the time of an interview.
However, we are informed that on February 6, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office announced that journalists and media workers based in Hong Kong and Macau must apply for temporary press cards with the Central Government’s Liaison Offices before they would be permitted to travel to the Mainland for journalistic work. The new rule requires journalists to obtain advance consent from interviewees and to submit evidence of consent with the Liaison Offices.
These changes are a reversion to pre-Games regulations, and place hardship not only on journalists but also on potential interviewees.
We are deeply concerned about this reversion and remind the Central Government that several individuals who consented to be interviewed by journalists around the time of the Olympic Games were harassed by local officials. Some interviewees were subsequently jailed.
We are further dismayed to learn of another new rule of the Customs Bureau, which requires that all foreign journalists and their media organizations must pay a guarantee, in cash or cheque via a tax agent, in order to take into the Mainland the equipment they need in order to properly conduct their profession.
This rule has not been announced publicly although we are informed it became effective on December 25. We are informed only that the new rule requires journalists and media workers to provide a guarantee of an amount equivalent to the taxable value of their professional equipment. No information has been made available on what constitutes a “guarantee document” and media organizations have received no information about how the amount of a guarantee is to be calculated.
Yet the need for this guarantee was cited by Customs officers when they refused to permit a cameraman for Belgium-based VRT Nieuws television station to take professional equipment onto the Mainland on January 8, despite his papers being in order. Mr Tom Van de Weghe, a VRT Nieuws journalist, informs us that his organization was asked to pay almost 22,000 yuen cash – almost a half of the value of the equipment – and that authorities said a “tax agent” must be retained to handle the matter.
Few media outlets can pay such a large amount of cash at sudden notice. In the case of VRT Nieuws, Mr Dieter was unable to do his job.
We are deeply concerned about the implications of this rule and the opaque manner in which it appears to have been introduced, with no consultation or notification to the press and media organizations.
Furthermore, we are concerned that the Central Propaganda Department has continued to impose restrictions on Mainland media. In various examples, mainland media have not been permitted to report on the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, pirate attacks on the Chinese Marine Force off Somalia, and the ways in which various municipal governments have tried to boost their local economies in the context of the global financial crisis. Instead, they can only report such events if they use materials from state-owned news agencies, thus limiting sources of information accessible to the public.
The above restrictions clearly violate Article 35 of China’s Constitution, which upholds the right to freedom of expression.
We therefore draw your attention to our concerns about China’s introduction and application of new rules for Mainland and non-Mainland media seeking to conduct their professional work in China. These rules are contrary to the spirit of openness pronounced by China’s Central Government and authorities in the period before and during the Beijing Olympic Games. If pursued, these new rules will reverse the positive steps made by China during the Games, by re-imposing archaic restrictions on the media.
As such, we call on China’s Central Government and authorities to:
i) Maintain all media freedoms that were in practice before and
during the Olympic Games, especially applying to non-Mainland media.
ii) Proceed to lift all restrictions on Mainland media.
iii) Revoke the requirement that Hong Kong and Macau journalists provide authorities with information about potential interviewees on the Mainland.
iv) Revoke the requirement for the provision of financial guarantees on media professionals seeking to take their equipment to the Mainland in order to conduct their work; or
v) Failing such revocation, post publicly the requirements for such guarantees, and explain why such guarantees are necessary; and
vi) Consult in an open manner with Mainland and non-Mainland media about the Government’s concerns and requirements for reporting in China.
We look forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with you in seeking a positive solution to these matters.
Signed by leaders of the following organisations, in Hong Kong for the regional meeting of IFJ Asia-Pacific, February 12-13, 2009:
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI)
All India Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF)
Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ)
Cambodian Association for Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)
Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, New Zealand (EPMU)
Federation of Media Employee’s Trade Unions (FMETU)
Free Media Movement (FMM)
Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ)
Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA)
Indian Journalists Union (IJU)
Journalists’ Association of Korea (AJK)
National Union of Journalists, Malaysia (NUJM)
Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA)
Minpo Rorem, Japan
Nepal Press Union (NPU)
National Union of Journalists (India) (NUJI)
National Union of Journalists, Nepal (NUJN)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
UNI Global Union
United Confederation of Mongolian Journalists (CMJ)