Re­port­ing hur­dle for for­eign press

The Australian - - Media - ROWAN CAL­LICK

IN the run-up to the Olympic Games, the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment has broad­ened the free­dom al­lowed for­eign me­dia to re­port in China but has ex­tended con­trols over the do­mes­tic me­dia. And the 30,000

net po­lice’’ con­tinue to mon­i­tor, fil­ter and at times pre­vent in­ter­net and email ac­cess in a con­tin­u­ing cat-and-mouse game with the coun­try’s many in­de­pen­dent voices and mav­er­ick blog­gers.

Be­sides the 20,000 ac­cred­ited jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the Games, the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties are ex­pect­ing 10,000 non-ac­cred­ited re­porters: twice the num­ber of ath­letes com­pet­ing.

And this may prove an un­der­es­ti­mate, with many ar­riv­ing long be­fore Au­gust to pro­vide ma­te­rial for ex­ten­sive preview se­ries to be broad­cast and pub­lished well be­fore the sport­ing events be­gin.

The re­sult by the time of the Olympics is likely to be a mass of voices and views on China, many crit­i­cal and seek­ing to carve a dis­tinc­tive approach be­cause of the very im­men­sity of the com­pe­ti­tion.

This presents a big chal­lenge for a coun­try whose en­tire me­dia is in the­ory state owned, al­though the con­nec­tions and con­trols have be­come rather re­mote in places where ‘‘ the moun­tains are very high and the em­peror is far away’’.

The For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents Club of China, which rep­re­sents most of the 400 of­fi­cially ac­cred­ited in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists in the coun­try, has re­cently pub­lished a sur­vey on the re­port­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Forty-three per cent of re­spon­dents said it had im­proved since new reg­u­la­tions cov­er­ing the for­eign me­dia came into force on Jan­uary 1, but 40 per cent said they con­tin­ued to ex­pe­ri­ence in­ter­fer­ence in their re­port­ing, cit­ing 157 cases.

Th­ese in­cluded in­tim­i­da­tion of sources, de­ten­tions, sur­veil­lance, of­fi­cial rep­ri­mands and vi­o­lence against cor­re­spon­dents, their staff and sources. FCCC pres­i­dent Melinda Liu, of Newsweek , said: We wel­come the progress that has been made’’, es­pe­cially in re­mov­ing the for­mer re­quire­ment that cor­re­spon­dents seek the ap­proval of lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials be­fore work­ing any­where in the coun­try. That rule is sched­uled to be rein­tro­duced along with other con­trols af­ter the Olympics.

Liu urged the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment to ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to elim­i­nate all me­dia re­stric­tions and to en­sure ap­pro­pri­ate im­ple­men­ta­tion of poli­cies.

She said: ‘‘ We’re es­pe­cially con­cerned by many re­ports of in­tim­i­da­tion of sources. A na­tion where cit­i­zens who speak to for­eign cor­re­spon­dents face threats, reprisals and even bod­ily harm does not live up to the world’s ex­pec­ta­tions of an Olympic host.’’

John Coates, pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian Olympic com­mit­tee, said on Tues­day, dur­ing a visit to Bei­jing, that the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee, of which he is a mem­ber, can only work with the host or­gan­i­sa­tion and is not in a po­si­tion to ad­dress such is­sues. It was up to gov­ern­ments to lobby on me­dia free­dom mat­ters, he said.

Pro­fes­sional diplo­mat Sun Weide, deputy di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Bei­jing Or­gan­is­ing Com­mit­tee of the Olympic Games, was at first re­luc­tant to ad­mit the BBC web­site was among many blocked in China.

But he then con­ceded that if in­ter­net users en­coun­tered prob­lems in ac­cess­ing the BBC, it was pos­si­bly be­cause the or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fered suc­cour to Falun Gong, the Bud­dhist-de­rived re­li­gious move­ment that had be­come the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment’s No. 1 en­emy.

Liu Qi, BOCOG pres­i­dent, says in a 171-page ser­vice guide for for­eign me­dia cov­er­ing the Olympics: ‘‘ As the Bei­jing Olympic Games approach, the gov­ern­ment in China, at all lev­els, and BOCOG will fol­low Olympic prac­tice and hon­our our com­mit­ments to pro­vide high-qual­ity ser­vices to me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions and jour­nal­ists all over the world.’’

The BOCOG me­dia of­fice has es­tab­lished a on­estop shop for jour­nal­ists to ap­ply for visas, Cus­toms clear­ance, per­mis­sion to film relics, in­ter­views with Chi­nese ath­letes, ac­cess to Olympic venues and satel­lite TV ar­range­ments ‘‘ based on the prin­ci­ple of be­ing kind and friendly to the me­dia’’.

One of the prob­lems fac­ing the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment is that jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing the coun­try — in­clud­ing many of those start­ing to ar­rive to pre­pare Olympic preview cov­er­age— are not very in­ter­ested in ad­min­is­tra­tive ar­range­ments.

The Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment mon­i­tors in­ter­na­tional cov­er­age, but its prime con­cern is over­whelm­ingly with what is avail­able in writ­ten or spo­ken Chi­nese.

And in terms of the free­dom of the do­mes­tic me­dia, this has changed lit­tle in re­cent years. Some top­ics have been care­fully opened up for greater scru­tiny at cer­tain times: re­cently, for in­stance, the en­vi­ron­ment. But other ar­eas are po­liced even more strictly. Very lit­tle is known, for ex­am­ple, about the lives of China’s un­elected lead­ers: even less than about their pre­de­ces­sors. Such doors re­main closed. And China con­tin­ues to hold more jour­nal­ists in its jails than does any other coun­try.

The Olympic Games nat­u­rally be­come a hook on which is­sues of press­ing in­ter­na­tional con­cern are hung and China, be­cause of its size and its au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­er­nance, is al­ready at­tract­ing more in­ter­est in this re­spect than other re­cent Games.

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