The FCCC regards the Olympic reporting rules introduced in January 2007 as an important step toward improving reporting conditions. Many foreign correspondents have said the reporting environment has improved, and the Foreign Ministry has often been helpful in supporting implementation of the new rules.
But concerns about implementation and interpretation remain, and the FCCC continues to monitor them. Between August and October we have learned of more than 16 incidents* of reporting interference that violate the word or spirit of the new rules. We are particularly concerned about the continued use of violence against reporters and their sources. Below are some of the outstanding issues highlighted by recent incidents, and our recommendations for improving implementation of the Olympic reporting rules to bring China closer to standards for reporting conditions offered by other Olympic hosts.
HIGHLIGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. FOREIGN MINISTRY HOTLINE:
TREND: The hotline to the Foreign Ministry has often proved useful, however its efficacy is not consistent. At times, no one answers*, or when someone answers the responses are not always consistent with the new rules.
RECOMMENDATION: Ensure that the hotline is operating 24/7, and that the official on duty provides support consistent with the new rules. For example, reporters should not be advised to delete materials that have been legally gathered in accordance with Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, in order to defuse a tense situation.* The hotline would benefit from better publicity, for example being made known to media officers at all embassies, and to all journalists applying for visas to China.
2. ASSAULTS AND PHYSICAL INTERVENTIONS
TREND: In the past two months the FCCC has learned of three cases* where reporters sought help from police because they were assaulted, or manhandled, and one case* where a source was beaten. In two cases, reporters asked that their assailants be investigated, but police have not yet followed up.
RECOMMENDATION: Instruct police and other security personal at all levels to investigate, according to law, anybody accused of assault. Create an institutional mechanism for resolving disputes with public security personnel.
3. OBSTRUCTION OF INTERVIEWS WITH CONSENTING INTERVIEWEES
TREND: Reporters have been denied access to consenting interviewees. In other cases, willing interviewees have been beaten, intimidated, or detained before, during or after interviews.*
RECOMMENDATION: Instruct public security personnel at all levels that according to Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, interviewees have the right to speak to foreign journalists. Authorities should not intimidate or threaten people who speak to the media. Create a mechanism to handle complaints when reporters are obstructed from speaking to willing interviewees.
4. RIGHT TO REPORT IN PUBLIC SPACES
TREND: Some police and citizens appear unaware of journalists’ rights to photograph and report in public spaces. Citizens have sought to delete video or images recorded in a public space, even when the complainants’ image was not recorded.* Some police have issued what appears to journalists to be arbitrary bans on reporting in public areas*. In terms of satisfying television news requirements, some authorities are too slow to grant access to news sites — for example, to Olympics venues.
RECOMMENDATION: Instruct police and other security personal at all levels that filming a crowd and reporting in public spaces is protected by Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution. Provide police with pamphlets to assist with public education on the rights of media, as well as citizens’ privacy. For example, individuals may decline to be interviewed, however filming a crowd in a public space is not an interview, and does not require permission. Authorities should not arbitrarily bar journalists from public spaces.
5. BUREAUCRATIC HARASSMENT WHILE INSPECTING DOCUMENTATION
TREND: Journalists report authorities have conducted prolonged inspections of documents such as passports, thus hindering them from doing their jobs for longer than necessary. In several cases, police interrupted or obstructed reporting because journalists were not carrying their Registration Form of Temporary Residence, a document that they are not legally required to have with them. Some plain clothes officers did not identify themselves when they ordered reporters to stop working; did not tell them why they were being stopped; were unusually aggressive or threatening; or tried to force journalists into vehicles or to leave the news scene.
RECOMMENDATION: The FCCC recommends foreign correspondents carry passports and press cards at all times, in keeping with Chinese regulations. Police and other security personal should be instructed that passports and press cards are sufficient for identification. Authorities who request to see documents should act in accordance with Chinese law which indicates civil servants should implement the law with fairness and transparency. The process should take no longer than a few minutes. Police should be aware that many foreign reporters traveling to China are not accustomed to being stopped by police when they are in a public space and behaving lawfully, and the document checks could cause unnecessary friction and misunderstanding if not conducted professionally.
PROPOSAL: Earlier this year, the FCCC fulfilled a request by BOCOG and Beijing Municipal Party Committee propaganda officials that the FCCC organize a sports journalism seminar for Chinese reporters of the Beijing Journalists Association. To help create a reporting environment suitable for Olympic coverage, the FCCC offers to cooperate with the IOC to engage in media and cultural sensitivity exchanges with public security officials, to help them better understand the work and expectations of foreign media.