In Olympic run-up, China eases rules for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan reporters

New York, January 2, 2007—The Chinese government this week issued new regulations easing restrictions for journalists from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan who are reporting in mainland China during the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. CPJ welcomed the step but called on the government to extend full protection and freedom to mainland Chinese journalists.

The new regulations, which went into effect on Monday and will expire on October 17, 2008, after the Games end, allow Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and Macau journalists to interview organizations and individuals without prior government consent and to hire mainland Chinese citizens as news assistants.

“While the new regulations for Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan reporters are a positive step, they do not go far enough in ensuring free access for all journalists in China,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Mainland Chinese citizens should be granted the same rights as foreign reporters, including the freedom not only to travel and interview sources, but also to publish and broadcast critical news reports without fear of reprisal.”

An official from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council said that the new regulations did not allow Chinese citizens to work as accredited journalists for media organizations based outside mainland China, according to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based daily. Domestic news organizations are subject to administrative oversight that curtails independent reporting.

The regulations also do not allow unrestricted travel for journalists reporting in the sensitive autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.

The new rules for Taiwanese journalists were announced on December 27, and for Hong Kong and Macau journalists on December 30. These regulations followed an announcement on December 1 that China would similarly ease restrictions for other foreign journalists reporting on the mainland during the run-up to the Games.

Cai Wu, minister of the State Council Information Office, hinted that the new regulations may extend past October 2008, according to international news reports.

“If the new regulations prove beneficial to our development and to exchanges between us and the foreign media, and if they aid communication with the international community, then I imagine there will be no need to change the policy,” Cai said.

In Beijing on Monday, a foreign reporter was permitted for the first time in eight years to interview Bao Tong, a senior official who has been held under tight government surveillance since 1989, according to Reuters. But officials in Shanghai denied media access to civil rights lawyer Zheng Enchong, who was arrested after taking up politically sensitive cases.

Administrative measures ensuring government oversight of media executives and editors are the primary means of controlling the press and preventing overly critical domestic news coverage in China. In addition, China has imprisoned at least 30 journalists, including Zhao Yan, a news assistant for The New York Times, and Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong reporter for the Singapore-based Straits Times.