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China extends “Olympic” rules for foreign journalists

October 21, 2008

In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities introduced new and more relaxed reporting rules for foreign journalists. On 17 October, just 15 minutes before the official expiry of the temporary rules, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao announced new regulations that “follow the major principles and spirits of the media regulations introduced for the Beijing Olympics”.

Les mer på norsk hos NRK.

The “Olympic” rules grant foreign journalists the right to move about freely in most of the country and conduct interviews without having to request permission in advance from the authorities. The exception is Tibet, for which special permission will still be needed.

On paper,  the relaxed rules grant journalists more freedom, but the question is how the rules will be enforced.

– An effective liberalization policy implies real respect for the rights and interests of foreign journalists. These principles should apply at the local level, press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders state on their website.

A step forward

Since the relaxed rules were introduced in January 2007, they have been repeatedly violated by Chinese authorities. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) has been notified of 336 cases of interference in the work of foreign journalists since January 2007, ranging from surveillance and denial of access to arrests and physical attacks

The FCCC still welcomes the new rules.

– If properly implemented, we believe this will mark a step forward in the opening of China’s media environment, club president Jonathan Watts said .

– We urge the government to ensure that police and local officials respect the spirit as well as the letter of the new rules, he said, echoing the concerns of Reporters Without Borders.

Paying the price

Both organizations are also concerned about the confidentiality of journalists communications with sources, and the fate of Chinese journalists and interpreters employed by the foreign press is still precarious.

– The easing of controls for foreign journalists should not be achieved at the expense of putting more pressure on local sources, Watts warned.

Freelance writer Yang Tongyan is one of many Chinese writers, bloggers and journalists paying a heavy price for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The pro-democracy activist is currently serving 12 years in prison for ‘subversion’, for his writings in support of political and democratic change in China.

Amnesty International considers Yang Tongyan to be a prisoner of conscience, and the organization is calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Sign the petition to free Yang Tongyan here!

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