Thu, Aug 02, 2007 - Page 5 News List

China still falls short on freedom of the press

AGENCIES , BEIJING

China has so far failed to live up to its pledge to ensure full media freedom ahead of the Beijing Olympics, with harassment of foreign reporters still common, a survey showed.

But despite the problems, the situation is better than when before the government relaxed reporting regulations on Jan. 1, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said.

Of the 163 respondents to the survey, 95 percent said they did not think reporting conditions in China met what they considered international standards.

Forty-three percent of respondents also said there had been an improvement in China's reporting environment since the government moved to relax decades-old foreign press restrictions before the Games.

The survey gathered written responses from reporters with media organizations from more than 24 countries. The majority of respondents, 133, were based in Beijing with the remaining working in Shanghai and four other Chinese cities not specified.

China now allows foreign reporters to travel and report more freely across most of the country in the run-up to next August's Games, but the relaxed rules will expire on Oct. 17 next year.

Foreign journalists had required government permission to report outside their home base -- usually Beijing or Shanghai -- but under the new rules they need only the agreement of the person they are interviewing.

"We welcome the progress that has been made," the group's president, Melinda Liu (劉美遠), said in a statement.

"However we urge the Chinese government to accelerate efforts to eliminate all media restrictions and to ensure appropriate implementation of policies. 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," she said.

Problems include violence against foreign reporters covering protests, detention for unauthorized filming and being called into the Foreign Ministry for "criticism" of stories, the group said.

China's own tightly controlled domestic media is not covered by the new rules.

Restrictions on travel to Tibet and the far western region of Xinjiang, where restless minority peoples chaff under Beijing's choke, remain in place too.

"Among the problems they cited was insufficient access to government officials,particularly the nation's top leadership," the group said.

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