China’s not-so-free foreign press

Back in 2001, when Beijing was bidding for the 2008 Olympics, Wang Wei, the head of the committee petitioning for the games, promised to give international media “complete freedom to report when they come to China.” Premier Wen Jiabao repeated that pledge when he decreed that foreign reporters would be allowed to roam freely without ...

600170_beijing_2008_320_05.gif
600170_beijing_2008_320_05.gif

Back in 2001, when Beijing was bidding for the 2008 Olympics, Wang Wei, the head of the committee petitioning for the games, promised to give international media "complete freedom to report when they come to China." Premier Wen Jiabao repeated that pledge when he decreed that foreign reporters would be allowed to roam freely without interference by local police or propaganda officials between January 1, 2007 and October 17, 2008. It's now August 2007, and the Olympics are less than a year away. How well has China fulfilled its promises?

Back in 2001, when Beijing was bidding for the 2008 Olympics, Wang Wei, the head of the committee petitioning for the games, promised to give international media “complete freedom to report when they come to China.” Premier Wen Jiabao repeated that pledge when he decreed that foreign reporters would be allowed to roam freely without interference by local police or propaganda officials between January 1, 2007 and October 17, 2008. It’s now August 2007, and the Olympics are less than a year away. How well has China fulfilled its promises?

Not so well, according to a report just released by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC). The FCCC surveyed 163 international journalists working in China to find out if they’ve experienced any kind of government interference while reporting. Forty percent of the respondents say they’ve been through anything from source intimidation, detention, and even violence since January 1, 2007.  Eleven correspondents say they’ve received official reprimands, particularly in regards to reporting on Tibet. A reporter for the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau was even harassed while doing a story on Mount Everest climbers. 

It’s not all dire news, though. Forty-three percent of respondents say that the reporting environment has improved somewhat since China decided to lift travel restrictions. But 95 percent say that reporting conditions in China still do not meet international standards. In particular, they cite difficulties in reaching top government officials.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next several months, especially since China is coming under increasing scrutiny—not just for traditional international concerns like human rights abuses, but for business practices. With melamine found in pet food and hazardous traces of lead in toys, the international media is not about to let up on China anytime soon. And as New York Times reporter David Barboza can attest, even business journalists are being detained. Time for Chinese officials to step up and fulfill their promises. They may find that transparency is in their own interests, too. 

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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