The Foreign Correspondents Club of China extends condolences to those who have been affected by the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan, one of the worst natural disasters in China since 1949.
The FCCC also welcomes Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang’s pledge to “exert our utmost efforts to create conditions” for journalists to report in quake-hit areas.
“A number of foreign correspondents have expressed appreciation for the access they have had to the disaster area, and to timely information about the calamity,” said FCCC President Melinda Liu. “This is a positive development, considering the challenging circumstances.”
Marije Vlaskamp, of the Netherlands broadcaster RTL said “The fact that I can just walk into the government crisis room and do camera interviews with the health department is not only unprecedented in China, but compared to other disasters I have covered in my own country and other countries I feel I have very wide access here. Of course it is frustrating when we see Chinese reporters getting more access to, for instance, mass burials and we cannot go there.”
Some correspondents have reported cases of interference while they were trying to reach, or conduct interviews in, quake-affected areas. Two foreign journalists said they were roughed up. Two correspondents reported authorities seized or tried to seize their video, or deleted photographs. A number of correspondents said a few days after the earthquake they were stopped at roadblocks and prevented from entering Beichuan, one of the hardest-hit areas, while Chinese journalists were allowed through. They were eventually able to proceed.
Among them was Katri Makkonen of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE. She said she was pushed around and
detained for 90 minutes. Nevertheless, she was generally “very, very surprised by the good way we were treated. At one roadblock I told a soldier I was a journalist, and he said ‘welcome!’ and let us in.”
The FCCC is encouraged by the unprecedented openness and access many foreign correspondents have found in the early stages of covering the earthquake and its aftermath. We hope this will continue and expand. Making an early announcement that the temporary foreign reporting regulations will be made permanent, once they expire on October 17, 2008, would be a welcome and decisive step in that direction.