Olympics: Know rules of the road

By Bob Dietz/Asia Program Coordinator on August 9, 2008 7:29 AM ET

CPJ has a lot of friends at the Foreign Correspondents Club of China; they have been a go-to resource for us for years. They released a statement early yesterday, on the morning of the day the Games opened. FCCC president Jonathan Watts (and The Guardian's Beijng correspondent) outlined the situation going into the Games very clearly:

In the past two weeks the FCCC has been informed of violence by law enforcement personnel against Japanese, European and Hong Kong journalists. Several reporters suffered injuries or damage to their equipment. On the eve of the Olympics, China still blocks many Internet sites, and foreign correspondents face interference when they seek to report on foreign and domestic critics of the Chinese government. Chinese sources report being intimidated or warned not to speak out. Promised reporting freedoms all too often wither away as soon as a subject becomes sensitive, as was apparent after the Tibetan unrest and the Sichuan earthquake. The authorities need to be more consistent.

"Despite progress in some areas, the FCCC is disappointed that the Chinese government has neither fully lived up to its Olympic promise of a free media environment nor made a clear-cut and enduring commitment to further openings after the Games," Watts said. "We strongly urge China to match its growing global influence with greater accountability."

The FCCC's guide--Committing Journalism: Know Your Rights--has the most up-to-date advice about what to expect under the government's new Olympic guidelines if you're detained. CPJ has an online reporters guide written by Jocelyn Ford, a long-time FCCC member. Jocelyn dispenses a lot of practical advice about how to get around in China, gleaned from her years of experience on the ground.

Journalists affiliated with large media companies most likely don't have too much to worry about; a call to their Beijing desk will usually set things straight. But I've started to receive messages from videobloggers and other e-journalists who have managed to elude the visa restrictions aimed at reporters and gotten into China. Their enthusiasm is terrific, but they should get online and read CPJ's and the FCCC's guidelines. And for extra measure, Human Rights Watch has a copy of the government's rules and regulations for journalists in a convenient side-by-side English-Chinese translation. It's handy to have in your backpack if you're stopped by the police, so print it out if you are able. If these sites are blocked and you're a videoblogger or using Twitter or Flickr, you'll most likely know how to use a proxy server. If you don't, here's a good site where you can learn to do it quickly.

And to get a sense of what you're up against if you start to cover stories the government doesn't like, here's an excerpt from Bill Foreman's AP story earlier today datelined Yining, in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Security tightens more as Olympics get under way:

An Associated Press reporter was picked up by police while speaking with people watching the Olympics ceremony on a TV set up in the street. The reporter was taken to a police station, videotaped and kept for 45 minutes while his passport, press card and cell phone were taken away and inspected.

An AP photographer was also briefly held by police who forced him to delete pictures of the police convoy doing maneuvers on the street.

Forman notes: Such detentions happen to foreign reporters from time to time in China, though Beijing has promised international media will be able to report on the Olympics freely.

And again, here is my plea from yesterday: The foreign press's hassles have been well covered, but the media story that really needs telling is how Chinese media are covering the Games. Seek out your Chinese colleagues ands talk with them. They are reporters making their way through a complex set of rules and regulations that have been tightened even more than usual.


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