The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China is concerned about the recent increase in reporting interference cases in Sichuan.
Coming a month after the earthquake, the tightening restrictions in some areas run contrary to the openness that was widely praised in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Entire towns, such as Dujiangyuan, have been declared off-limits to
foreign reporters, particularly those who have attempted to report on the collapse of schools. Some parents of children who died in those schools say they have been warned by police not to speak to overseas news organisations.
In the past week the FCCC has received reports that at least seven foreign media teams have been stopped or temporarily detained, most of them at the Dujiangyuan courthouse. Others report being blocked at checkpoints or followed on the grounds of “safety” and “traffic regulations.” Several of these incidents are detailed on the FCCC website.
Some areas, such as Beichuan, are still relatively open. But overall reporting conditions have deteriorated. In the early stages of the
relief operation, foreign journalists were allowed to travel relatively freely upon showing their ministry of foreign affairs press
passes. Now, they are required to obtain special photo-passes from the Sichuan foreign affairs department and also extra permits from some local counties, such as Deyang, as well. Although the risks of aftershocks, floods and landslides are far lower than a month ago, police increasingly restrict movement on the grounds of “safety”.
FCCC members greatly appreciated the opportunity to report relatively freely in Sichuan in the first two weeks after the earthquake. Access was crucial to understanding the situation, seeing the work done by relief teams and understanding the needs and circumstances of the victims. Reporters were willing to take risks to report this.
Now, however because of the political sensitivity of the school collapses, some authorities are tightening controls. The detentions at Dujiangyuan and Juyuan are not in keeping with the transparency that, in the wake of the tragedy, Premier Wen Jiabao promised ‘will never change’. It also runs contrary to new Olympic reporting regulations that allow foreign reporters to interview any organisation or individual with their prior consent.
The FCCC has asked the government to re-open restricted areas and to allow quake victims to speak freely to foreign reporters. The club is happy to share details of the incidents with the central government and Sichuanese authorities and to discuss ways in which the situation might be improved.