Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information CenterSouthern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center
HomeAbout UsCampaignsSouthern Mongolian WatchChineseJapaneseNewsLInksContact Us



Free the Press

South China Morning Post
January 10, 2007
By Frank Ching

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 international organisations.

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 journalists.

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.




From Yeke-juu League to Ordos Municipality: settler colonialism and alter/native urbanization in Inner Mongolia

Close to Eden (Urga): France, Soviet Union, directed by Nikita Mikhilkov

Beyond Great WallsBeyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

The Mongols at China's EdgeThe Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity

China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

The Ordos Plateau of ChinaThe Ordos Plateau of China: An Endangered Environment (Unu Studies on Critical Environmental Regions)
 ©2002 SMHRIC. All rights reserved. Home | About Us | Campaigns | Southern Mongolian Watch | News | Links | Contact Us