When this report first appeared, in August 2007, we expressed hope that China would honor the Olympic Games by fulfilling its pledge to free the media. But in the past 10 months, the government has instead tightened its control of the press. It is imperative that journalists at the Beijing Games be aware of the conditions faced by their colleagues in the world’s most populous country. For this reason, CPJ has updated and reissued Falling Short
Despite temporary rules promising them more access to ordinary Chinese citizens, foreign journalists find they are harassed and blocked from traveling to hot spots such as the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions. Some of the people these journalists interviewed were later questioned by police and jailed.
Chinese journalists, while operating in an increasingly commercial environment, still work under the watchful eye of a censorship apparatus that issues daily, sometimes hourly, directives. Authorities boast of their efforts to monitor the flow of information across the Internet, even as high-speed Web access has brought more than 210 million users online.
Since China was awarded the Olympics on July 13, 2001, dozens of journalists have been imprisoned for their work, and many remain behind bars today. As of May 1, at least 26 reporters and editors were being held in Chinese prisons. Most have been jailed on vague security-related charges such as revealing state secrets or inciting subversion. Relying on such catchall accusations, China has led the world in the number of imprisoned journalists since 1999.
It is the failure of China and the International Olympic Committee to carry out the promises they made when the Games were awarded that prompted CPJ to write this report. In 2001, both sides assured the public that all journalists would have unrestricted freedom to cover the Games. Buoyed by Olympic ideals, China was supposed to ease its control of information and abandon its harsh punishment of those who work outside the system. That vision has not been realized.
Visiting journalists may not be fully aware of the restrictions and pressures placed on their Chinese colleagues. Reporters who venture beyond the Olympic Village should be prepared to work in an environment where harassment is common and where sources are at risk.
We believe change is possible. We encourage China to make permanent the looser restrictions on foreign media, to extend those freedoms to domestic journalists, to halt its recent backsliding into repression, and to end its dubious status as the world’s leading jailer of journalists. With these changes, China would create a media environment worthy of its economic power.
Chairman, Committee to Protect Journalists