Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called on China’s
Government to maintain relaxed restrictions on the media beyond the October 17 deadline
set for expiration of its temporary Olympic Reporting Regulations for foreign
journalists as well as those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
“If China allows the special reporting regulations
to lapse, it will send a message that the limited gains for media freedom made during
the Olympic Games are being unwound,” IFJ Asia-Pacific
“A free media is impossible while China continues
to fetter local and foreign journalists with heavy-handed interference and to
detain journalists who dare to report critically.”
The special regulations were
introduced ahead of the Beijing Olympics. They came into force on January 1,
2007, and allow greater freedoms for journalists to interview subjects and to
carry out their work. The regulations have allowed limited improvements in
media freedom in China,
even though they have been widely breached by government and security
Since the regulations have been in
force, the IFJ has noted small improvements in media freedom in China.
- As per the regulations, greater freedom for journalists to interview citizens with consent, and greater freedom of movement for journalists around China;
- An increased number of government press conferences to disseminate information to the public, including after major incidents;
- Minor roll-back of some controls on internet access and postings on websites.
Many organisations noted that for
the first 10 days after the earthquake in Sichuan province in May 2008, local and
foreign journalists were allowed relatively free rein to travel and report on
the disaster. Only after the scale of the devastation and public distrust of
authorities’ preparations and handling of the crisis began to emerge did the state
propaganda apparatus crack down on the media.
In July, the IFJ reported that Liu
Binjie, Director of China’s General Administration of Press and Publications
(GAPP) which regulates print publishing, said that the freedom of the press
promised in the special regulations was not a “short term policy” and would
continue after the Olympics.
However, breaches of media freedom
and of the regulations have been widespread and serious. The Foreign
Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC)
has documented more than 336 cases of interference in media reporting since the
regulations came into force.
During the Olympics, journalists were
regularly inhibited by local officials who were unaware of the regulations or
unwilling to allow such a free media environment on their territory.
An international outcry ensued when
it emerged that China
was also blocking or limiting internet access from press centres set up for
international journalists covering the Games. Security officials physically
assaulted several reporters in Beijing,
including British and Hong Kong journalists
reporting on protests and scuffles around Olympic venues.
In early August, three Japanese
journalists in Xinjiang were detained and beaten, while others had materials
confiscated, while they reported on the aftermath of a bomb attack which killed
a contingent of police officers.
The IFJ also reported on August 10
that plain-clothes security officials were taking photographs of journalists at
work in Beijing.
China has also continued to punish and
jail local journalists, writers and bloggers for attempting to do their jobs. On
April 3, online journalist and blogger Hu Jia was sentenced to three and a half
years’ jail and one year’s denial of political rights on charges of “inciting
subversion of state power” for articles and interviews critical of China's
Government’s record on human rights.
Other journalists and writers detained
in 2008 include Chen Daojun, for investigative articles raising concerns about
chemical plants in Pengzhou, Sichuan; Sun Lin, for articles on civil rights
violations in Nanjing; Zhou Yuanzhi, a freelance writer and social commentator,
detained in Zhongxiang City, Hubei, in May; Qi Chonghuai and He Yanjie,
journalists working for China Legal News,
detained in Shandong in May; and Du Daobin, dissident writer and former editor
of Human Rights Poetry, detained in
Yingcheng, Hubei, in July.
China’s Central Propaganda Department
continues to issue regular directives to shape the direction of news coverage, to
restrict reporting on “sensitive” topics, and to alert the state security
apparatus to breaches.
Controls intensified during the
uprising in Tibet
in March. During the Olympic Games, a leaked directive revealed that
journalists were ordered not to mention Tibet, not to cover any protests including
those in the officially designated “protest parks”, not to report on food
safety issues including carcinogens in water, and only to report the “official
line” on any controversies arising during the Games. Some blogs and websites
were ordered permanently closed.
In September, the IFJ reported that
the Department had allegedly deleted articles relating to the nationwide milk
powder poisoning scandal from websites. It insisted on pre-approving articles
about the scandal before they were published, and ordered journalists to leave Shijiazhuang, Hebei,
where milk products company Sanlu, considered responsible for the crisis, is
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR), which China
has signed but not ratified, enshrines the right to freedom of expression. This
right is echoed in Article 35 of China’s Constitution.
The IFJ calls on China’s Government
to extend the special regulations as a baseline for future reform.
For more information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 in 122 countries worldwide