For most foreign correspondents in Beijing, getting information from the Chinese government is a core part of their jobs. The good news is that over the last several years, the use of the Internet has dramatically increased the ease and speed with which the public can access many government documents and statistics. Some government agencies now also hold regular press conferences, and press access to large events like the annual legislative session has improved.
The bad news is that getting anything other than prepared documents from the government can still be difficult, and it is rare to be able to interview senior officials outside of major scheduled events. Many government agencies will not answer queries over the phone, and will typically only respond to faxed questions in Chinese. Such responses can take several days, which can be frustrating for correspondents on tight deadlines.
Correspondents who are not literate in Chinese will likely find the Internet less useful, since the English language sections of most government websites are less comprehensive and less frequently updated than the Chinese originals. That said, the Internet remains the first and often best source of information on government activities. Most government agencies do not actively distribute news releases or other information to the foreign media, but will regularly update their websites. Some government agencies, such as the People’s Bank of China, can alert correspondents via mobile-phone text messages to new items on their website.
Opportunities to put questions directly to government officials are still infrequent, but are increasing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds twice-weekly briefings with simultaneous Chinese-English interpretation, where it can address many aspects of China’s interaction with the rest of the world.
The State Council Information Office organizes occasional press conferences for many other government agencies that do not themselves regularly interact with the foreign press. The SCIO events are open to both domestic and foreign media, and feature consecutive rather than simultaneous interpretation (an important convenience for non-Chinese-speaking reporters, but one that reduces time available for questions).
Other government agencies that hold their own regular press conferences include the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. These events may not have translation. The best way of finding out about the timing of these press conferences, again, is the agencies’ web sites. Central government websites (primarily www.gov.cn, www.scio.gov.cn and www.china.com.cn) also frequently have live webcasts and Chinese-language transcripts of press conferences and other events, which can be a valuable resource.
*Please note: this information was compiled from public sources and will inevitably change over time. It is provided as a service to FCCC members but the FCCC does not and cannot assist individual correspondents with their reporting.