Government Should Stop Intimidating Assistants Of Foreign Media

Mar 6, 2009

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China is appalled at the tightening of restrictions on Chinese news assistants who have been told they will be fined and stripped of accreditations if they conduct independent interviews.

The club calls for the scrapping of a new Code of Conduct, which also obliges assistants working for foreign media organisations to spread “positive information”.

In a sign of how this has resulted in a sharp deviation from past practice, the organisers of this year’s National People’s Congress have refused to accept interview requests from accredited assistants for the first time in several years.

The FCCC believes the measures, introduced last month at the behest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mark a step back towards the rigid media controls that the government said it was moving away from during last year’s Olympic Games.

The code of conduct discriminates unfairly against Chinese news assistants. Foreign companies in other industries can freely hire PRC citizens as full-fledged, full-time employees. In addition, the code is a business restriction that places foreign media organisations at a competitive disadvantage. Chinese journalists in most developed nations can hire local staff without such restrictions. In China, however, foreign media organisations are obliged to hire staff through the government’s Personnel Service Corporation.

Pressure on assistants is also being applied verbally. The club has received reports of assistants being warned that they must not tell friends and family members about information they collect during reporting trips until it is first published by the state media.

“The code of conduct is a regression,” said Jonathan Watts, FCCC president. “The intimidation of Chinese assistants runs against the promise of openness made last year. The code should be scrapped. Media assistants in China should be allowed the same scope of activity as media assistants in other nations.”

The FCCC requests that foreign media be free to hire staff directly and that Chinese citizens be allowed to work for the overseas media as fully accredited journalists.