The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China has received several reports of journalists being harassed and detained in Sichuan province in the run up to the anniversary of last year’s earthquake. With more foreign media organisations likely to visit the area before May 12, we call on the Chinese Foreign Ministry and local government officials to ensure an open reporting environment in the spirit of the regulations for foreign journalists that were announced on October 17, 2008.
Reports from the field include aggressive police and official interference with correspondents and their sources. In several cases, local authorities have insisted that journalists register in advance before doing their work. Such demands fly in the face of the new regulations for foreign media, which eliminated the need for prior permission to visit public areas and conduct interviews.
We have heard that guided media trips are planned to the affected areas. When offered as an option to augment independent reporting, such trips are welcome — but they are not a substitute. Journalists should have the choice of whether to travel alone or with the assistance of the authorities.
The open reporting environment for Chinese and foreign journalists in the immediate aftermath of the quake contributed to the global outpouring of sympathy and aid to the victims last year. We call on the Sichuan authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies to respect China’s regulations by providing unfettered access this year.
“The detentions and permit requirements in Sichuan are a disappointing step backwards by the authorities,” said FCCC president Jonathan Watts. “Reporting restrictions are a barrier to understanding the circumstances and needs of the people trying to recover from last year’s disaster. They should be lifted.”
NOTE: The FCCC has received the following reports:
On April 1, a French journalist was working in Dujiangyuan on a story about a family whose daughter was killed in a school collapse when he and the family were stopped and detained by both uniformed and plainclothes police. The parents were released. The reporter was forced to go the police station and informed he needed to register to report in the area.
On April 2, a German reporter was barred from Yingxiu while attempting to cover the area ahead of the first anniversary of the quake. The reporter was in a public cemetery amid a group of Chinese journalists interviewing relatives of the dead when authorities approached him and told him he had failed to register. They led him away from the cemetery.
On April 6, a German television crew working in Shifang and nearby areas was physically prevented from filming and detained for over five hours. When the crew was waiting to meet the father of a child who died in a school collapse, unidentified men grabbed the man in front of the journalists.