Delegates leave after the Third Plenary Session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, on March 10, 2023. Several international journalists reported difficulty accessing events. (Reuters/Mark R. Cristino)

China should improve overseas media accreditation, access following restrictive political meetings

Taipei, March 14, 2023 – Chinese authorities should allow international media to cover events and political gatherings without restrictions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday, after several accredited journalists reported being denied access or having access restricted to the first major political meetings since China relaxed its zero-COVID policy.  

The state-run China Daily reported that about 1,000 journalists from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, or overseas applied to cover China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, which  convenes annually alongside the advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference for a 10-day gathering known as the “two sessions.”

The events, which concluded Monday, provide a rare chance for foreign correspondents to engage with the country’s top leaders, yet foreign journalists in Beijing reported being repeatedly denied access to meetings, according to news reports.

“Foreign journalists play an essential role in reporting on China and its relations with the rest of the world,” said Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative. “Chinese authorities must ensure that the international press are able to do their jobs at major events like the ‘two sessions’ and not use accreditation and health measures as an excuse to hamper reporting.”

International journalists were required to check into a “quarantine” hotel and seek permission to enter individual sessions and press conferences, according to Taiwanese public news outlet Central News Agency, which said some were limited to video access of events.

One Beijing-based correspondent for a European broadcaster told CPJ that he was not allowed to attend any sessions despite his outlet having been accredited to cover them. Speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals, the journalist said authorities would open each session for additional accreditation two days in advance, but his applications to attend were never granted.

“It’s pretty clear that they are just cherry picking the people that they think should be there,” the journalist told CPJ.  

Other journalists reported similar limitations on Twitter:

Will Glasgow, North Asia correspondent for The Australian wrote that his application to cover the two sessions was not approved.  

– The BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonell said that no BBC presence was allowed at the Congress.

– The Straits Times’ China correspondent Elizabeth Law wrote that she could count only 20 China-based foreign journalists at key sessions during the start of the meeting and about 40 at the closing ceremony.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment.

Chinese authorities curtail independent coverage of domestic politics, and issue frequent instructions to local news outlets forbidding them to report on topics that the ruling Chinese Communist Party determines to be off limits. China was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2022, according to CPJ’s annual prison census.