A year before the start of the 2008 Summer Games, a new survey of foreign correspondents in China shows that many feel the government has not yet met its Olympic pledge to give them complete freedom to report. Harassment of foreign reporters is common, despite improvements in some areas.
Forty percent of 163 respondents in a survey by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) say that since Jan.1, 2007, they’ve experienced some form of interference. They reported more than 157 incidents, including intimidation of sources, detentions, surveillance, official reprimands, and even violence against foreign correspondents, their staff and sources.
However, many correspondents, 43 percent, say that the reporting environment improved following China’s decision to temporarily lift travel restrictions during the Olympics period from January 2007 to October 2008. The old regulations required foreign correspondents to seek local government permission every time they traveled away from their home base to report.
“We welcome the progress that has been made,” said FCCC President Melinda Liu. “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. 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.”
Ninety-five percent of respondents said reporting conditions in China do not meet what they consider to be international standards. Among the problems they cited was insufficient access to government officials, particularly the nation’s top leadership.
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.” Up to now, the survey showed, more than 67 percent of foreign correspondents felt Beijing has yet to live up to that pledge.
During the Olympics, China expects to host at least 20,000 accredited and 10,000 non-accredited foreign reporters — more than twice the number of athletes.
Since January, eleven foreign correspondents said they had been reprimanded officially by authorities about their or their organization’s reporting. Tibet is a particular concern; it remains more difficult for foreign correspondents to travel there than to other parts of China, and those who do go appear more likely to encounter official obstruction.
In the run-up to the Olympics, the FCCC recommends greater efforts – especially among local authorities – to live up to the spirit of the new regulations, and an end to the intimidation of foreign correspondents’ sources and staff. We urge the government to continue opening up even after the current rules expire.
The FCCC would welcome more dialogue with authorities to ensure that a more open media environment will be one of the lasting legacies of the Beijing Games.
Download the detailed survey findings here.
ABOUT THE SURVEY: Of more than 315 China-based foreign correspondents invited to participate in this July 2007 online survey, 163 respondents from two dozen countries took part. Percentages reflect all respondents to that specific question; of 163 respondents, 18 did not answer every required question. Where percentages do not total 100 percent, some respondents answered “not applicable.” “Reporting interference” includes violence, destruction of journalistic materials, detention, harassment of sources and staff, interception of communications, denial of access to public areas, being questioned in an intimidating manner by authorities, being reprimanded officially, being followed, and being subjected to other obstacles not in keeping with international practices. The graph showing types of interference does not include all reported incidents of interference. Data may be used if credit is given to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC).