A crackdown on “fake” reporters in China draws a rebuke

New York, November 12, 2007—The Chinese government should abandon its crackdown on so-called “fake” foreign journalists in advance of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ expressed alarm that the government’s plan, which includes amassing records of thousands of foreign journalists seeking Olympics accreditation, is a pretext to block critical reporters from covering the Games.

Officials are compiling a database of all reporters allowed to work in China during the Olympic Games, the official China Daily reported Sunday, quoting Liu Binjie, minister of the General Administration of Press and Publication. Eight thousand reporters who will be allowed into Olympic venues have already been entered into the database, while thousands of other journalists allowed to work in China during the Games will also be included, Liu said Sunday. The list will be made available to interviewees, he said. It was not immediately clear what information will be stored in the database or how it is being collected.

A spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee could not be immediately reached for comment on the Chinese plan. One human rights group—the China Aid Association—recently reported that the Ministry of Public Security is circulating instructions to its local bureaus to restrict the entry of potentially troublesome people, including media employees. The government has not officially confirmed the existence of the directive.

“The Olympics cannot continue to be used an excuse for restricting press freedom in China,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Allegations of ‘fake’ reporting are a transparent justification for extending the Chinese government’s strict control of press coverage, in violation of all their promises to the contrary. We call on the government to institute the absolute freedom of the press that was guaranteed when the Games were awarded.”

The government launched a campaign in August against what it called “phony” domestic journalists. The effort, now expanded to include foreigners, will be extended until March, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The government claims to have detected 150 fake reporters and 300 unregistered publications so far, according to China Daily. A national hotline is soliciting allegations of illegal journalism, newspapers or news reports.

Domestically, CPJ research shows, a small criminal industry has emerged in which people have fabricated press cards, presented themselves falsely as reporters, and extorted money from subjects in exchange for “withholding” embarrassing or negative information. The scope of the issue has not been independently determined; no cases involving foreigners have been publicly disclosed. In the run-up to the Games, China has failed to meet its promises to allow free and unfettered news coverage, CPJ found in the special report, “Falling Short,” issued in August. In the 79-page report, CPJ found that Chinese leaders have maintained a vast censorship system, imprisoned dozens of journalists, and harassed many more.