Media will be free to roam during Olympics, pledges Beijing
Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Wednesday September 6, 2006
Beijing's Olympics organisers have promised that the international media will be allowed to travel freely around China by the time the Games start in 2008, Britain's minister for culture, media and sport Tessa Jowell said yesterday.
The assurance - given by the head of the organising committee, Liu Qi - would require a loosening of some of the tightest restrictions on foreign journalists in the world. Correspondents are frequently detained by police and sent back to Beijing when they try to cover sensitive stories in the provinces.
Britain, Germany and other European countries have urged China to drop these controls and to grant the same freedoms permitted to Chinese reporters in London, Berlin and other western capitals.
Mrs Jowell, who is visiting Beijing as UK Olympic minister, said she received a positive response when she raised the issue with her counterpart, Mr Liu. "He gave me a clear assurance that he would support unimpeded movement of accredited and non-accredited journalists to report not just on the Games but on China," she said.
It was unclear whether the relaxation would apply only for the duration of the Olympics, when more than 20,000 journalists are expected to arrive in Beijing, or be a permanent change.
Ms Jowell said she hoped greater media freedom would be one of the lasting legacies of the Olympics. "I believe that once we establish freedom in this way, even after the delegates and the athletes have gone home, China won't reverse it and the Games will have a lasting legacy of opening China to the world," she said.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, of which the Guardian is a member, has lobbied for reform against a backdrop of several dozen detentions in the past two years.