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China fails to ‘free’ foreign media

With Olympics near, reporters bound

BEIJING — China has so far fallen short of its promise to ensure full media freedom ahead of the Beijing Olympics and harassment of foreign reporters is still common, according to a survey by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

While 43% of the 163 correspondents in the survey said the situation had improved since the government relaxed reporting regulations on Jan. 1, 95% said they did not think reporting conditions in China met what they would call international standards.

They listed more than 157 incidents, including intimidation of sources, detentions, surveillance, official reprimands, and even violence against foreign correspondents, their staff and sources.

The new rules allow foreign press, but not Chinese journalists working in the domestic media, to travel and report more freely across most of the country in the run-up to the games, which start Aug. 8 next year. The rules are due to expire Oct. 17, 2008, although officials have indicated they may be extended beyond that if successful.

When Beijing was bidding for the Olympics in 2001, Wang Wei, Secretary General of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), promised to give international media “complete freedom to report when they come to China.”

Until last year foreign journalists were required to obtain government permission to report outside their home base — usually Beijing or Shanghai — but under the new rules they need only the agreement of the person they are interviewing.

The new rules do not cover Tibet, and several foreign journalists traveling there have been called into the Foreign Ministry for “criticism” of stories.

China is gearing up to host around 20,000 Olympic-accredited and 10,000 non-accredited media during the two-week event, which is more than twice the number of athletes due to attend.

FCCC President Melinda Liu said the group welcomed the progress that has been made.

“However we urge the Chinese government to accelerate efforts to eliminate all media restrictions, and to ensure appropriate implementation of policies. We’re especially concerned by many reports of intimidation of sources,” said Liu. “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.”

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