Television correspondents often encounter more reporting interference and red tape than do their print counterparts because their equipment is so conspicuous. Some tips for TV reporters:
Filming in public
According to the rules you should be allowed to shoot in almost all public areas. However, particularly following the Spring 2011 events in the Middle East, this freedom has been considerably constrained, especially in Beijing. See “Sensitive Areas and Topics” for more information.
You need prior permission to film in some public areas such as military areas, airports, railway stations and even parts of the Great Wall. An administrative office dispenses such authorization for Tiananmen Square. Since March, 2011, permission has been required for Beijing’s main shopping street, Wangfujing.
Some places (like parks) have administration offices which claim the right to grant permission or charge fees. Shopping malls also generally require advance permission.
If you want to cover airport VIP arrivals, be aware there are two types of procedures – one for special VIP’s and a second for other officials. For special VIP’s such as presidents and prime ministers, apply for passes through the International Press Center. For other officials, such as those with visiting delegation or the six-party talks, procedures are more flexible and the embassy of the person you want to film usually makes arrangements for TV media.
Filming in private areas
Ordinary Chinese citizens may welcome you into their homes. Corporate officials may also give good access if they think it’ll be good for them. Explain that the footage will be used for news only — and that you aren’t seeking fees or “travel expenses” — since some companies may confuse your request with an overture from an ad agency.
Filming sensitive topics
Your filming may be stopped anywhere if authorities believe it’s touching on sensitive subject matters. If possible meet sources beforehand in a different location to discuss interview details. Try to interview in pre-arranged places or out-of-the-way locations. Shoot a useless tape in the same area, and switch tapes if you sense authorities may seek to delete your footage. If authorities intervene, the Chinese citizens helping you usually face worse repercussions than you do, so be very candid with them about the risks involved. Keep in mind your ability to help them may be very limited.
Filing your reports
Satellite feed: You can book a satellite feed through many service providers — either directly through China Central Television (CCTV) or through foreign broadcasting service providers such as Associated Press Television News (APTN), Reuters, European Broadcasting Union (EBU) or China TV Service (CTVS).
Several bureaus set up uplink satellite feeds in their own offices; this needs to be done through a Chinese official company such as CCTV or China Netcom (CNC). Even if your uplink company is CNC, CCTV needs to be informed since the satellite signal goes through CCTV in any case. Such uplinks work through fiber-optic connections to CCTV, so be sure the building where your office is located is equipped such connectivity.
CCTV in the Jianguomenwai Diplomatic Compound is the switchboard for all such connections as well as broadcast services. No licenses for independent satellite dishes are issued — with the exception of special licenses issued to news bureaus and broadcast service providers for the duration of the Olympics reporting period. A contract with CCTV for using fiber-optic connections does not guarantee you can connect to another network and receive footage directly, nor does it guarantee that your satellite feed will succeed since it will be monitored though CCTV — and the signal can been blocked if sensitive subjects are broached.
If you want to feed outside of Beijing, you still need to book the service through your provider in Beijing, which will arrange the feed at local Chinese TV feed points. You might have to apply to the local Foreign Affairs office for authorization as well.
Internet: FTP is commonly used in China to feed TV reports, especially when correspondents are traveling outside Beijing where local feed points aren’t always available. Filing via FTP is also the cheapest solution and more difficult to monitor. Internet transmission from hotels is very common; most 4-star and 5-star hotel have broadband. However normal internet connections can be very slow at certain times of day (especially weekend evenings). To improve internet capability you can buy a dedicated line with guaranteed bandwidth from a number of companies; such lines can also be also used for live internet feeds.
BGAN: The use of a BGAN machine for a live feed requires a license. The China Transportation Telecommunications Center is licensed to sell and rent such equipment.
Other means of transmission: Long distance transcontinental fiber-optic transmission is also available from some providers.
Working with Chinese personnel
Chinese nationals can be officially hired as producers and cameramen, much like Chinese news assistants. You may also need free-lance camerapersons or editors, who can be provided by broadcasting and/or production companies. Some production companies also offer packages with producers, assistants, camerapersons, and editors. Often cameraperons are editors as well, which is handy if you need to shoot and edit outside Beijing. Most free-lance producers work independently.
Taking equipment out of the country
If you want to travel with your equipment outside China, you make a list of the specific items on paper with official letterhead and your bureau stamp. Customs will check and stamp this list; it should allow you to bring your equipment back into China.