Fri, Dec 19, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Foreign reporters in China say media freeze intensifying

NY Times News Service, BEIJING

For foreign journalists in the Chinese capital, the end of the year brings the usual swirl of holiday parties, talk of escaping the bracing cold for the warmer climes of Southeast Asia and one inevitable question: Did you get your new visa yet?

The good news is that unlike last year — when the Chinese government delayed the issuance of some journalist visas, prompting the intervention of US Vice President Joe Biden during a state visit in December — the authorities appear to be renewing hundreds of annual resident journalist visas without a hitch this year. That includes reporters from the New York Times and Bloomberg News, two media outlets that last year were targeted for their investigative coverage of the wealth of the families of China’s top leaders.

However, the progress on visa renewals obscures what many correspondents say is a mounting hostility toward Western media outlets operating in China. The government continues to block the Web sites of the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and the Times, and a number of Times reporters have been forced to leave mainland China after the government declined to process their visa applications.

Many foreign correspondents say it is increasingly difficult to carry out their work in China. Tibet remains off-limits, and the volatile western region of Xinjiang has effectively become a no-go zone, with police harassment making it nearly impossible to investigate the bloody clashes between ethnic Uighurs and Chinese security forces that claimed hundreds of lives this year.

Earlier this week, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China published a harrowing catalogue of recent incidents that suggest a creeping intolerance of photographers, reporters and video crews working in places that are officially open to foreign journalists.

In recent months, more than a dozen correspondents have been roughed up, detained or shadowed by plainclothes police officers as they tried to work in far-flung provinces as well as the heart of the nation’s capital.

In October, one wire service employee said he was manhandled, locked to a metal chair and held for more than 14 hours after he attempted to report from outside the main petition office in Beijing. The correspondent refused to strip down for a physical exam, but was forced to submit to a drug test and then falsely accused of injuring one of his interrogators. As retribution, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued him a six-month press card, not the one-year card that is usually pro forma.

Many of those who reported harassment to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club requested that their names, and in some cases the names of their employers, be withheld for fear of angering the authorities.

In interviews, several of those who have experienced harassment said it was disproportionate to the sensitivities of the subject at hand. In August, an Associated Press camera crew covering the opening — and subsequent closing — of an underground film festival in Beijing was attacked by a crowd of thugs who damaged their equipment, splashed them with water and snatched one of the correspondents’ phones.

“We were completely shocked, because you don’t expect that kind of reaction covering a small film festival,” one reporter said, adding that the police just stood by as the violence unfolded.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top