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China's press freedoms extended

BBC News
October 18, 2008

China has extended some of the rules that gave foreign reporters greater freedom during the Beijing Olympics.

State news agency Xinhua said the temporary arrangement for the games, due to expire on Friday, would become standard practice.

It means journalists can continue to conduct interviews without applying to the authorities for permission.

The move has been welcomed by the main organisation representing overseas media in China.

"If properly implemented, we believe this will mark a step forward in the opening of China's media environment," said Jonathan Watts, president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

The club called on the authorities to make sure police and local officials respected the freedoms.

Correspondents say the move to extend the more liberal rules has been eagerly awaited and is a sign of China's commitment to allow foreign journalists more freedom to report on a permanent basis.

But it is not clear whether other measures will remain in place, such as those which allowed journalists to travel freely around the country without the supervision of a foreign ministry official.

Restrictions remain

Despite repeated questions from foreign journalists about the issue, China had not until now said what would happen after the rules expire.

They were introduced in January last year and covered foreign journalists who wanted to report on Olympic-related issues.

The rules allow correspondents to travel around China without first getting permission from the authorities - as they had to do previously.

"To interview organisations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent," the regulations state.

HAVE YOUR SAY I do not think any of us will be holding our collective breath to see if Chinese officials will be less restrictive Shelia Bumgarner, United States

In practice foreign reporters have had more freedom to do their work, but have not been completely left alone by the authorities, says the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing.

Certain sensitive areas, such as Tibet, were off limits, and correspondents have continued to be detained by the authorities.

There have been hundreds of reports of foreign journalists being intimidated or harassed by officials who were either not aware of the rules or chose to ignore them.

The BBC's China Editor, Shirong Chen, says China's leaders are aware that they need foreign journalists in order to communicate with the international community but that ensuring real freedoms on the ground will remain a challenge.

Significantly, the regulations do not apply to Chinese journalists, who will continue to face a high degree of control and censorship by the Chinese government.

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