Foreign journalists report threats before Olympics

New York, April 30, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern today about reports of growing hostility toward foreign journalists in China 100 days before the start of the Beijing Olympics.

At least 10 correspondents have reported receiving anonymous death threats, according to a Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) report released today. The group listed more than 50 incidences of official interference in reporting on recent unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas of western provinces of China. CPJ has not been able to independently confirm the reports.

“This report confirms what many journalists have feared—that China is continuing to repress foreign media,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “It is evident that China has not followed through on its pledge that it would allow for a free and open media, which was made when it was awarded the Games. The government must immediately address the threats being directed toward journalists.”

Government interference in reporting activities breach regulations that were introduced in anticipation of the Games in January 2007. They allow foreign journalists to report freely on Chinese “politics, economy, society, and culture” until October 2008, according to the Beijing Olympic media service guide. The FCCC says it has documented more than 230 complaints by foreign journalists about violations since the new rules were introduced.

A growing wave of Chinese nationalism driven by anger with overseas media coverage of the Tibetan unrest threatens international reporters in China, the FCCC said. TV network CNN was particularly singled out by an anti-CNN Web site launched in March.
Personal information and phone numbers of reporters for international news outlets including The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today were circulated online in China earlier this month, the AP reported, and reporters subsequently said they received harassing calls.

National Public Radio correspondent Anthony Kuhn commented on conditions for himself and his colleagues on the station’s Web site on April 22. “Many of us have received death threats and hate mail. One or two have fled the country,” he said.

FCCC President Melinda Liu urged government authorities “to investigate the death threats, which violate Chinese law, and otherwise help create an environment in keeping with their Olympic promises.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu denied accusations that the government was encouraging the nationalist feeling, which she described as “spontaneous” at an April 8 press conference. “Dissatisfaction of many Chinese citizens [was] expressed over some Western media’s provocative, biased and unfair coverage. This could by no means be instigated by the government,” she said in comments published on the government’s Web site.  

A CPJ report, Falling Short, documents China’s failure to meet press freedom pledges made when the Olympics were awarded in 2001.