Conditions increasingly restrictive for foreign correspondents in China

When China hosted the summer Olympics in 2008 it promised greater press freedom, but six years later conditions for international journalists are increasingly more restrictive, as evidenced by a report released today by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.

The FCCC, which consists of 243 members from 31 countries, argued in its position paper that conditions for international journalists reporting in China have steadily deteriorated in recent years, and that the government has failed to fulfill pledges made before the Beijing Games to foster an open reporting environment for international journalists.

“China’s poor record on allowing open and unfettered reporting is in conflict with its desire to be seen as a modern society deserving of global respect. And it is in great contrast with the wide access Chinese journalists have enjoyed when reporting in many foreign countries,” according to the report. “Yet as China embraces and leverages press freedoms abroad for its own media, it is going the opposite direction at home.”

The report highlights six main areas of concern — restrictive reporting conditions; interference with news assistants; interference with sources; denial of access to government information; denial of foreign media access to the Chinese market; and punitive immigration policies — where the FCCC has documented cases of conditions deteriorating.

The group found that 80 percent of its members surveyed earlier this year thought that their work conditions had worsened or stayed the same compared with 2013. Not one member said conditions had improved.

While grim, the findings bring few surprises. Large swaths of the country including Tibet and regions with a large Tibetan population, and the far western region of Xinjiang, home to China’s Uighurs, continue to be off-limits to journalists. Over the past year, the Committee to Protect Journalists also documented a series of directives issued by the government barring Chinese journalists from cooperating with foreign news agencies.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the Chinese government abuses the press card and visa renewal process for foreign correspondents. The withholding of visas remains an issue for staffers at The New York Times and Bloomberg following reporting on the finances of family members of China’s leadership, according to reports. In the case of The New York Times, Austin Ramzy was forced to leave China earlier this year after authorities declined to renew his visa. Authorities have also turned down requests for resident journalist visas for new reporters, and withheld temporary visas for reporters based outside China, the paper said. The websites of The New York Times, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal continue to be blocked in China.

The full paper by the FCCC is available here.