- Mary-Anne Toy, Beijing
- September 11, 2008
The Age: WITH the Olympic spotlight on China fading, speculation is increasing about whether controls on foreign journalists, relaxed in the lead-up to the Games, will be allowed to expire next month.
The more relaxed rules allowing foreign, but not domestic, reporters to travel virtually anywhere in China and interview anyone on almost any topic, came into effect on January 1, 2007.
They are due to expire on October 17, about three weeks after the Paralympic Games end in Beijing.
Previously, foreign journalists needed Government permission to travel outside Beijing and conduct interviews, or risked being detained, and put at risk Chinese citizens who spoke to them.
The requirements were widely flouted — and this was increasingly tolerated by the authorities, who have focused more on controlling domestic media and the internet. But the Olympic rules were seen as a significant improvement by foreign media, other governments and human rights groups.
Asked on Tuesday whether the regulations would expire next month, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: "I think when the time comes, we will tell everyone what the arrangement will be. But I want to reiterate to everyone that the spirit of opening up will continue."
Last December, a Foreign Ministry official suggested that the looser regulations would continue after the Olympics. In March, ministry spokesman Qing Gan said: "China's opening-up will be continuously pressing ahead. The door has been opened already. It will never be closed again."
But a Government-approved backlash by Chinese citizens here and overseas — against perceived pro-Tibet foreign media bias — signalled that some in the Government backed a return to harsher controls.
Implementation of the temporary rules had already been patchy, with Beijing having to intervene sometimes to tell local officials to cease interfering.
Access to the Tibet Autonomous Region remained controlled. Access to other Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai was also banned after the March torch relay riots.
Beijing's Foreign Correspondents Club of China has documented more than 334 cases of reporting interference since January 1, 2007, including 63 during the Olympic period. The club's media freedom spokeswoman, Jocelyn Ford, yesterday urged the Government to make its intentions clear and its decision-making more transparent.Hong Kong's South China Morning Post yesterday reported that mainland financial websites had been told to ease up on negative news as the Government tries to prevent social unrest caused by plummeting local sharemarket