IFJ Urges China to Extend Media Freedom as Deadline Looms


The International

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.

These include:


  • 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