China welcomes "fair and objective" media to Games

Guardian Unlimited
By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING, Dec 4 (Reuters) - China responded to criticism of its record on media freedom on Tuesday by reiterating that foreign journalists would be welcome to cover next year's Beijing Olympics "in a fair and objective way".

Rights group Reporters Without Borders last week sent an open letter to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge detailing what they described as abuse of journalists and accusing him of allowing it to happen by remaining silent.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news conference that the Paris-based group had "consistently attacked China".

"We have emphasised that with the upcoming Olympics, the Chinese government and people sincerely welcome reporters from around the world to come to China and cover the Games in a fair and objective way," Qin added.

Earlier this year, China relaxed its rules to allow foreign journalists to travel around the country without the usual need for official approval.

Local officials and police, however, have often proved reluctant to allow people to air complaints to foreign media about lost land, corruption and other sources of discontent.

On Monday, for example, a Reuters reporter was manhandled by security guards as he tried to speak to residents of a Beijing apartment block scheduled for demolition to make way for a security lane close to the showpiece stadium for the Games.


The Reporters Without Borders letter highlighted cases of foreign reporters briefly detained and assaulted while investigating village protests and other sensitive topics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said they were confident China would deliver on its commitment to allow freedom to report in line with that enjoyed at previous Games.

"A great deal of effort is being made by (Beijing Organisers) BOCOG and the Chinese authorities to uphold these assurances," IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said in response to the letter.

"There is work still to do, but the IOC believes in the good will of the Chinese to deliver the necessary environment for the 20,000 accredited media who will come for the Games."

The Reporters Without Borders letter also expressed concern that organisers were going to run security checks on all reporters applying for accreditation to the Games and that the state press administration was compiling a database of foreign media.

The IOC said the compilation of a database of journalists was normal practise to aid the accreditation process, while the background checks were a standard security procedure undertaken by the host country before all Olympic Games.
The letter was just the latest of a series of letters and releases calling on the IOC to put pressure on China on issues ranging from media freedom to Tibet and Darfur.

"It is natural for human rights and other organisations to use the Beijing Olympic Games to draw attention to reforms they believe China should enact as quickly as possible," Moreau added.

"The Games can only be a catalyst for constructive dialogue in a complex and sensitive transformation that is taking place in compressed time." (Editing by Alex Richardson)