The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China urges the government to build an Olympic legacy by enshrining the pledge of openness in new rules for foreign correspondents.
In keeping with China’s efforts to become a more open society, we urge the government to recognize in the new regulations for foreign correspondents that the free flow of information is crucial to the proper functioning of the globalized world.
To that end, the regulations should also guarantee protection of news sources. During the Olympic period, the FCCC received numerous reports of people being prosecuted, intimidated or otherwise prevented from speaking to foreign reporters*.
Around 100 countries have laws to protect sources**. China is behind most other major economies in not recognizing this international best practice.
“We urge China to join these nations,” said FCCC president, Jonathan Watts. “China cannot meet its promise of being open to the world unless its citizens are allowed to speak freely to foreign reporters.”
The current temporary Olympic regulations marked a step forward in recognizing the right of reporters to travel where they wished without prior permission and to interview anyone who is willing. After they expire on Oct. 17, the FCCC calls on the government to include these two principles in an improved and more thoroughly implemented set of rules.
In an appendix to this statement, we note areas of progress regarding working conditions for foreign reporters and suggest further reforms to lift China’s media environment towards global standards.
APPENDIX: STEPS TAKEN AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER OPENINGS
FCCC members acknowledge progress, which should be built upon, in the following areas:
1) The Olympic-period regulatory commitment to journalists’ freedom of movement without requiring advance permission from the authorities (though there have been many cases of infringements***).
2) The Olympic-period regulatory commitment that foreign reporters are free to interview anyone who is willing (though there have been many case of infringements*).
3) The release of more official data, particularly on environmental matters, than in the past.
4) Increased access to government officials and places of interest. FCCC notes with appreciation recent examples of openness, for instance an interview given to foreign media by Hu Jintao, regular access to Olympic officials, access to press conferences on the attacks in Kashgar, and correspondents’ positive experiences at the Tashan mudslide site, Beijing trash incinerator protest and in the immediate aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake. TV reporters have also been able to film more freely in Tiananmen Square than in the recent past.
5) The unblocking of certain websites, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
6) The increased number of foreign journalists allowed to work in China.
But China remains behind international best practices. We suggest the authorities introduce the following reforms:
1) Make the free reporting regulatory commitments permanent and properly enforced.
2) Enact laws to protect sources who provide information in the public interest. Tighten and make transparent the definition of “state secrets”, which are currently used too broadly to detain people who talk to reporters.
3) Facilitate wider access to officials on all subjects. Increase the amount and quality of official data released to the public.
4) Avoid harassment of journalists by training public security officers and local officials not to follow, detain or physically intimidate reporters, harass sources or block filming in public spaces. Improve the system for dealing with police violations so journalists can call on the State Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Public Security Bureau for support when they suffer harassment or when their reporting materials are confiscated or damaged. Cease the requirement of hotels to notify the public security bureau when a foreign reporter checks in.
5) Relax internet controls more widely and over the longer term.
6) Allow Chinese citizens to work as fully accredited reporters and cameramen for foreign news organizations.
7) Widen formal channels of communication with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
*Since the start of 2008, at least two Chinese citizens – Hu Jia and Yang Chunping – have been sentenced to prison, partly based on evidence presented by prosecutors that they provided information or comments to overseas media organizations. Many others including the lawyer Teng Biao have been harassed or temporarily detained and warned not to speak to foreign journalists.
***Since the Olympic regulations came into effect on Jan. 1, 2007, the FCCC has received reports of 336 cases of reporting interference, including 67 during the Games period. For details on cases, please check the Detentions and Harassment page at www.fccchina.org. “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. When groups of reporters from different media organizations travel together, and experience the same violation, we count one violation per news organization.