Aug 02, 2007

China: Free Reporting Fails in China

Despite Beijing's pledge and new rules to allow free reporting from China, foreign journalists still experience intimidation, harassment and arrest, according to a new report.

Despite Beijing's pledge and new rules to allow free reporting from China, foreign journalists still experience intimidation, harassment and arrest, according to a new report.

Below is an article written by Bill Schiller and published by Toronto Star

Despite a much-publicized Olympic pledge to give foreign journalists "complete freedom" to do their job in China, the government has yet to deliver, a new report says.

In fact, rather than open China up entirely, as promised, there is ample evidence Chinese authorities continue to tail foreign correspondents, intimidate their sources, and even reprimand reporters after their stories are published, according to a new survey released today by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

New, more liberalized regulations that came into effect on Jan. 1 were – in theory – supposed to ensure freedom of movement and access for foreign correspondents reporting in China. But in practice, that hasn't always been the case.

"We welcome the progress that has been made," FCCC president Melinda Liu said. "However we urge the Chinese government to accelerate efforts to eliminate all media restrictions.

"A nation where citizens who speak to foreign correspondents face threats, reprisals and even bodily harm, does not live up to the world's expectations of an Olympic host," Liu said.

The new survey was released amid other reports of continued intimidation of independent journalism in China.

Three weeks ago [01 August 2007], the government shut down a long-standing, Beijing-based newsletter on environment, health and labour issues published since 1995 by British journalist Nick Young.

Young's China Development Brief was regarded as balanced, informative and non-controversial.

But Chinese authorities accused it of conducting illegal research by engaging in the apparently egregious activity of "statistics surveys."

Young told journalists he hadn't conducted statistical surveys,
but felt the government was interpreting its own law broadly to prohibit "any kind of investigation ... even going out and talking to people."

Last week the Paris-based free speech organization Reporters Without Borders renewed its call for the release of a Mongolian journalist known by the single name of Hada, amid reports he has recently been subjected to physical abuse.

Inner Mongolian Governor Yang Jing flatly denied the allegations.

But Hada's wife has said her husband, jailed since 1995 for allegedly promoting "separatism," has recently been mistreated.

"The slogan for the Beijing Olympics, `One world, one dream,' leaves a bitter taste for China's minorities," the press freedom organization said in a statement.

Today's FCCC report acknowledges the reporting environment inside China has improved somewhat since journalists have been allowed to travel the country without first having to seek permission.

But many correspondents also had stories of interference, intimidation and harassment. Of the FCCC's 300 members based in China, 163 responded to the survey. They reported 157 incidents during reporting, ranging from state surveillance, to temporary detention, and even violence against them or their local staff.

That wasn't exactly the picture promised when Beijing was bidding for the games in 2001.

At that time, Wang Wei, secretary-general of the Beijing Olympic Committee, guaranteed foreign media would have "complete freedom to report when they come to China."

But 67 per cent of respondents said China had, so far, failed to live up to its promise.

And some reported especially rough treatment: Mayumi Otami, a photographer with Japan's Mainichi newspaper, was assaulted March 27 while covering a demonstration by residents in Shanghai protesting the demolition of their neighbourhood to make way for the 2010 World Expo.

Harold Maas, a correspondent for a German daily was prevented by authorities from travelling to a city to do interviews while on assignment in Tibet. Interview subjects were warned not to speak to him and the firm that rented him a car was heavily fined.

Maas was later summoned by the foreign ministry and "strongly criticized" for his trip, the report said.

Holly Williams and her British Sky TV crew were twice detained by police in China while reporting near the North Korean border.

Some correspondents praised the Chinese central government for making a clear commitment to adjust the old, hardline practices. But they also complained that, at the local level, governments were still unaware of the new, more liberalized regulations.

"Not until Tibet and Xinjiang are open for foreign correspondents, and (there is) safety for the people they interview, can Mr. Wang say that he has fulfilled (his) pledge," one unnamed correspondent said in a report summary.