Sun, Oct 19, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Freedom for foreign media not enough, groups tell China

AFP , BEIJING

Rights groups and media experts yesterday gave a cautious welcome to China’s decision to allow foreign reporters greater freedom and urged Beijing to extend the same rights to domestic journalists.

China announced late on Friday that greater freedoms introduced for the Olympic Games for foreign reporters would be extended, giving them the right to interview consenting Chinese without first seeking government permission.

The rules were first introduced on Jan. 1 last year as part of China’s Olympic media freedom commitments, but had been due to run out on Friday.

Domestic journalists, however, were not affected by the relaxation and remain burdened with strict reporting restrictions — a fact deplored by rights groups and media experts.

Human Rights in China, a New-York based activist group, urged the Chinese government to also extend these freedoms to domestic reporters.

“The Chinese government should answer the calls of its own people,” group executive director Sharon Hom said. “It should respect its own constitution which guarantees press freedom, a right that many Chinese journalists and writers have paid — and are paying — a great price to exercise.”

David Bandurski, a researcher for the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, said the issue of press freedom in China was determined by domestic media policy rather than rules governing foreign reporters’ work.

“This is really about China’s international image,” he said.

The rules announced on Friday also stipulated that foreign reporters would be allowed to report outside the city in which they were officially based without having to get authorization.

But they would still have to get permission from local authorities to gain access to the Tibet, where the military quelled protests against Chinese rule in March.

Chinese nationals, however, still remained barred from working for foreign media organizations as reporters.

Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, said the move was not enough.

“We hoped that the end of these regulations would be an opportunity [for China] to think about things, to consult others, ask media organizations how things could be improved beyond freedom of movement and interview,” he said. “But the only thing they were capable of doing was to extend these two freedoms.”

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