China Morning Post
January 10, 2007
Liberalised mainland regulations on foreign media came into
effect on January 1 and already the difference can be seen.
Foreign journalists no longer require approval to move around
the country or conduct interviews. They need only the consent of
individuals or organisations they wish to interview.
As a result, foreign journalists were able to interview Bao Tong
, a former aide to ex-party chief Zhao Ziyang who died in 2005
after having been under house arrest since being ousted from
power for opposing the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
They were also able to travel to Inner Mongolia to talk to Xinna,
the wife of Hada, an ethnic Mongol identified by Amnesty
International as a prisoner of conscience. He was tried in Inner
Mongolia in 1996 and sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of
separatism and spying.
But reporters were unable to interview former Shanghai human
rights lawyer, Zheng Enchong , who served three years for
"illegally providing state secrets abroad" because he helped
victims of forced eviction in Shanghai and sent information to
Although he was released last year, Zheng is under an additional
sentence of one year of deprivation of political rights.
Journalists attempting to interview him were stopped by police
who said that because "he's been deprived of his political
rights, he's not suitable for taking interviews".
This means those who have been deprived of their political
rights cannot give interviews even if they are willing to do so.
That, in turn, implies that meeting foreign journalists is a
right enjoyed by Chinese citizens, but can be taken away by the
courts if a person is convicted of a crime.
That raises an interesting question. If meeting foreign
journalists is a political right enjoyed by all citizens, what
right does the government have to impose regulations on
journalists that take away this right from citizens?
Before the new regulations - which expire in October 2008, after
the Olympic Games - came into effect, rules adopted in 1990
provided that local governments had to give approval for foreign
journalists to interview people in their areas.
This effectively deprived mainlanders of the right to meet
foreign journalists. After all, how can citizens exercise their
right to meet these journalists if the government forbids the
reporters from meeting them? What authority did the government
have to deprive its people of this political right?
If the government has wrongly denied the people this particular
political right for the past 16 years, it stands to reason it
should not go back to doing so after the Games.
Fortunately, Cai Wu , head of the news and information
department of the State Council, said at his last press
conference of 2006 that "in his personal opinion", the relaxed
rules might be made permanent after the Games end. The old
reporting rules, drawn up after Tiananmen Square, might well be
scrapped. That would be good news.
Certainly, the new, more relaxed system for foreign journalists
is good for China, and the world. However, what Beijing needs
even more is to relax the controls that it has on its own
According to Geneva-based Reporters Without Borders, at least 32
journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents are imprisoned in China,
with press freedom even more restricted in border regions, such
as Tibet , Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, where there are
separatist movements. It ranked China 163rd in the world in its
Worldwide Press Freedom Index for last year, a drop of four
places from 2005.
The government should realise that a free press will be an ally,
not an enemy. A free press will improve government
accountability. It will help to instill a system of checks and
balances. And it will be a major force in the campaign to stamp
out corruption in the country - something that the communist
party has failed to do. Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer
and commentator. email@example.com