China’s Uneven Application of Rules Restricts Media Freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says China’s inconsistency in applying its own new rules and regulations for non-mainland journalists amounts to obstacle-setting in which bureaucrats continue to restrict reporting regardless of government edicts.

According to local media reports, officers of the Sichuan provincial government sought to bar journalists from entering Dujiangyuan city, which was affected by the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan and is where the Ching Ming festival on April 4 pays tribute to the dead.

Hong Kong journalists told the IFJ that local provincial officers demanded journalists wishing to visit the mainland for the May 12 anniversary of the earthquake seek approval from their local propaganda departments to enter Sichuan.

This was despite the journalists already having provided approved documents in accordance with the latest requirements from the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office for travelling to the mainland.

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, many local and foreign journalists are preparing to report on the government response in rebuilding the area and supporting families affected by the disaster. More than one billion yuan (about USD 146.2 million) of international aid and 80 billion yuan from China’s Government has been allocated to the reconstruction effort.

“The failure of local provincial governments to recognise the regulations set out by China’s Central Government reveals a discord in attitude toward press freedom and journalists’ right to report in the public interest,” IFJ Secretary General Aidan White said.

In its annual report on press freedom in China China’s Olympic Challenge: Press Freedom in 2008, and in an open letter sent to President Hu in February, the IFJ appealed to China to ensure the Central Government’s own regulations are respected and honoured at all levels of government.

The IFJ notes there is a contradiction where the Central Government claims journalists must comply with regulations for visiting the mainland while lower-level governments then either override these regulations or deny knowledge of them.

“It is ridiculous that those journalists who do deal with the red tape to satisfy the regulations on reporting in China are still denied their right of passage even where they meet all the requirements.”

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