Executive summary (PDF)
China’s ruling Communist Party continues to erect hurdles to foreign journalists, and the media companies that employ them, discouraging reporting on many aspects of China. Foreign journalists are restricted in where they can travel. Their sources are vulnerable to intimidation or worse. If they or their co-workers write stories that displease the Chinese government, they face retribution. This could come in the form of threats, effective expulsion (visas not being renewed), retribution against news assistants and reprisals against a journalist’s media company that has business interests in China. In an FCCC survey this year of China-based foreign correspondents, 80％of those surveyed thought that their work conditions had worsened or stayed the same compared to 2013. The FCCC believes that China is rapidly eroding the progress it made in “opening up” to the world prior to the 2008 Olympics.
About the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC)
The FCCC has 243 correspondent members from 31 countries. It was founded in 1981 and its objectives are to promote friendship and professional exchange among foreign correspondents stationed in China, to promote professionalism in journalism and to defend the ideals of freedom of the press and the free exchange of information.
In the years since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there has been a notable increase in threats and use of violence against foreign journalists, their staff, and their sources; China’s restrictive and punitive visa practices have severely hampered global news organizations’ coverage of China. In 2014, China is further away from making good on its pre-Olympic pledges to uphold a “policy of opening up to the outside world” and to protect the lawful rights of foreign journalists.
China’s poor record on allowing open and unfettered reporting is in conflict with its desire to be seen as a modern society deserving of global respect. And it is in great contrast with the wide access Chinese journalists have enjoyed when reporting in many foreign countries.
Yet as China embraces and leverages press freedoms abroad for its own media, it is going the opposite direction at home. Authorities maintain strict control and censorship over domestic journalists. China’s policies toward and treatment of the international media have not matched the nation’s advances toward international norms in other areas.
China is the world’s second largest economy and is re-establishing itself as a global power. The nation is rapidly urbanizing, and economic policies are evolving from a manufacturing orientation toward a greater focus on service and information industries. Chinese state-owned and private enterprises are expanding overseas.
China’s 12th five-year plan (2011-2015) emphasizes the “culture sector,” including media and entertainment, as a growth industry. The government is investing billions of dollars in creating more market-oriented media conglomerates it hopes will compete for global influence with media giants in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, with the aim of improving its image and exerting greater soft power. China has taken advantage of press freedoms in other countries to build up state-run media brands, including CCTV and China Daily.
The FCCC advocates a free reporting environment for all. Foreign reporters in China should enjoy the same access and freedoms that Chinese reporters enjoy in most other countries. Media organizations should enjoy the same freedom to disseminate their work in China that Chinese media organizations enjoy in most other countries. The FCCC advocates the elimination of barriers to free reporting and the establishment of a level playing field. The FCCC welcomes enhanced dialogue with authorities to improve mutual understanding and work out standard operating procedures for smoother coverage of news events.
Before 2007, foreign journalists could not travel freely in China and had to work with specially assigned government officials to do their reporting outside of the city to which they were officially assigned.
A major breakthrough for foreign journalists working in China came during the run-up to the Olympics. New reporting rules issued in December 2006 were made permanent in October 2008.
According to these regulations, journalists should be able to travel freely throughout China (except to the Tibet Autonomous Region) and interview any individual willing to be interviewed. Unfortunately, the rules have never been fully enforced, and following the Olympics the situation has steadily deteriorated. Large areas of the country, such as Tibetan-inhabited regions outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region, are effectively off-limits to foreign reporters, and journalists traveling to Xinjiang are effectively blocked from free reporting by authorities who often trail them and intimidate interviewees. In other provinces, journalists have been met by officials who declare an area is closed to foreign reporters.
Moreover, new obstacles have emerged to thwart reporters from being able to freely interview anyone who consents. Chinese authorities have stepped up intimidation of prospective interviewees and journalists’ Chinese assistants. They have imposed bureaucratic obstacles, such as requiring journalists not stationed in China to obtain written consent from people they wish to interview before China will issue a visa. Authorities have increasingly used visa denials and delays, or the threat of visa denials and delays, to express displeasure with foreign outlets’ news coverage.
China ranks 175 out of 180 in the 2014 Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, and is described as “Not Free” in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index. This reflects international perceptions of how China treats both domestic and foreign reporters.
A survey carried out by the FCCC in May 2014 found that 99% of respondents did not think reporting conditions in China meet international standards, and 80% feltconditions had worsened or stayed the same as the year before — up 10 percentage points from the May 2013 survey. Not one member said conditions had improved.
The FCCC has identified six main areas for action: restrictive reporting conditions, interference with news assistants, interference with sources, denial of access to government information, denial of foreign media access to the Chinese market, and punitive immigration policies.
I. Restrictive Reporting Conditions
1. INTERFERENCE, HARASSMENT AND PHYSICAL VIOLENCE
Two-thirds of journalists who responded to the annual FCCC Working Conditions Survey in 2014 said they had experienced interference, harassment or violence while attempting to report in China in the previous year. Among them, 10% — primarily TV journalists — said they were subjected to manhandling or use of physical force.
TV crews and photographers are often the prime target of interference and harassment, with police or unidentified plainclothes personnel forcing them to delete pictures or confiscating tapes and memory cards. In recent years, the FCCC has recorded several cases of authorities damaging equipment with impunity. The FCCC is aware of only one case in which authorities compensated journalists for equipment damage.
Attempts to cover the trial of New Citizens Movement leader Xu Zhiyong in Beijing in early 2014, for example, resulted in multiple reports of physical violence:
“Uniformed police prevented us from standing outside the courthouse. Plainclothes state security personnel, some wearing sunglasses, hoods and scarves, manhandled us away. I was ushered over a low wall, seriously damaging my ankle. My hand was cut and bruised as I protected my camera. Dozens of unidentified plainclothes personnel then kept us two streets away, pushing and shoving us if we tried to film or report”, one British TV correspondent said in the survey.
Reporters traveling to the western province of Xinjiang, which has been beset by violent unrest, have reported being followed by uniformed and plainclothes security –- sometimes from the minute they step out of an airport – and disturbed in their hotel rooms.
“In our Kashgar hotel room, during the night, people knocked at door constantly in September 2013. Three men suddenly appeared in front of the door, muscular and well trained. They were constantly patrolling in front of the door; others were calling our room constantly. The men were banging on the door and pretending to try to open the door”, a German correspondent said in the survey.
One foreign reporter whose articles angered elements of the Chinese government was told by the manager of the building where he lives that security officials had visited and asked the manager questions about the reporter’s family life, the layout of his apartment, where his children went to school and other personal questions.
In wake of the incidents around the Xu Zhiyong trial, the FCCC complained to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, calling on Chinese authorities to stop the use of physical coercion and harassment of foreign journalists, and to strictly adhere to China’s laws and regulations and international standards and practices of allowing free reporting in public spaces. The ministry did not respond.
2. ATTEMPTS TO PREEMPT OR DISCOURAGE COVERAGE
Before reporters even arrive on a scene, authorities are attempting to preempt coverage and discourage outlets from covering certain “sensitive” events.
In the weeks leading up to the 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square, some reporters were harassed for reporting on the subject (discussion of which is barred in Chinese media). Public security officers summoned a number of foreign journalists to their offices and, while videotaping the encounters, lectured the journalists about reporting related to the anniversary. Some of the journalists were warned of serious consequences should they disobey authorities.
“We were reporting on the strict security in central Beijing ahead of the June 4th anniversary. In a span of two hours, police asked me for my documents five times. The next day two policemen came into my flat, which also serves as my office. They came with two women, who didn´t wear uniforms. These women recorded my house with some mobile phones while the police asked us for documentation. The police said the documentation was for internal use”, a European broadcaster said in the survey.
“I was called to the Entry and Exit Bureau, and basically told this year security will be especially strict during the ‘sensitive period,’ in ‘sensitive areas,’ and with ‘sensitive interviews’ related to the June 4th anniversary. They asked me to convey this to the bureau chief and other journalists in our bureau. They said that this is a second warning for me personally, and if I do not abide by Chinese law, I should ‘expect the most serious consequences”, a correspondent working for North American media said.
The FCCC is aware of foreign correspondents who have requested investigations following attacks by thugs or plainclothes operators that caused injury or damage to equipment, but is not aware of any action being taken to punish the perpetrators.
3. LIMITS ON TRAVEL IN TIBET AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL
Restrictions on foreign journalists’ access to “sensitive” areas of the country remain widespread, arbitrary and unexplained. Large parts of Chinese territory remain officially or effectively out of bounds for foreign correspondents. The 2008 rules prevent foreign reporters from visiting the Tibet Autonomous Region without prior permission from the regional government. Such permission has only rarely been granted in recent years.
Even in areas that are not explicitly off limits – such as Gansu, western Sichuan, and Qinghai – obstruction by local authorities makes working there extremely difficult and risky or impossible for locals to be interviewed.
Journalists seeking to report in Xinjiang have routinely been turned back by checkpoint police and other authorities telling them that they are forbidden to be there. In the FCCC 2014 survey, at least 42 respondents said that they were told reporting from Xinjiang and Tibetan-inhabited areas was restricted or prohibited. Still, many reporters did visit Xinjiang, encountering problems, such as:
“During a trip to Xinjiang, police officers in Kashgar informed me that I was not allowed to conduct interviews in Kashgar or report from there. The officers were waiting for me at my hotel; however, this only happened after I had already been out on the street conducting interviews and I didn’t encounter any problems while taking pictures and doing interviews on the street. The officers said I needed permission from the local authorities in order to report from Kashgar. They insisted that they were only applying rules that were no different from the rest of China. In the city of Hotan, I was told by the police that I was not allowed to be there and that I had to leave”, one correspondent informed the FCCC.
4. APPLYING PRESSURE OUTSIDE CHINA
The FCCC is also alarmed by the manner in which the Chinese government has sought to persuade the senior executives of news organizations in their headquarters to kill stories about China. At least three media companies – France 24, ARD TV (Germany) and the Financial Times – have come under unusual Chinese government pressure after publishing news reports that angered the Chinese authorities. Chinese embassy officials in Paris, Berlin and London lodged direct complaints with senior editors, in an apparent effort to pressure them into restraining their reporters in Beijing.
The Tokyo headquarters of Japanese media have received similar visits. In total, a quarter of respondents to the FCCC Working Conditions Survey in 2014 said pressure had been applied to editors in headquarters about their coverage.
“Diplomats in Copenhagen contacted my editor several times. They also had a meeting where the Chinese embassy sent three people including a lawyer,” a European newspaper correspondent said.
5. CYBER ATTACKS
Cyber attacks on FCCC members have become routine. Although we cannot identify the origin of these efforts to install malware and spyware on our computers, the club’s cyber-security consultant has found that many of the attacks specifically target foreign correspondents based in China.
The FCCC advocates:
–Reporting in Tibet should be allowed.
–An end to intimidation in Xinjiang and all other areas.
–Proactive and transparent investigations when journalists are attacked by thugs or plainclothes operators.
–Greater transparency when interacting with journalists. Law enforcement personnel should identify themselves – as required by Chinese law. In cases where authorities interfere with reporting activities or force journalists to leave a news site, authorities should cite relevant laws.
–Regular meetings with security authorities to discuss working practices that facilitate coverage at news sites where security is a concern, and establishment of an effective hotline for better communications.
–Greater assistance from police for journalists’ access to news sites, even in areas blocked off to the general public.
–An end to using “ensuring your security” as an excuse to block reporters.
–A requirement that authorities who search and confiscate material provide signed papers documenting the search and listing any items confiscated.
–A reduction in the number of public spaces such as parks and historic sites that require official permits for filming. The permits should only be required for monuments that require special protection. Monuments such as the Temple of Heaven, which allow access for masses of tourists, should be removed from the list of restricted areas.
–An end to targeting journalists with cyber attacks, malware and other electronic surveillance.
II. News Assistants
Foreign correspondents are free to hire Chinese nationals of their choosing to serve as assistants or drivers, but are required to do so through the state-run Diplomatic Service Bureau (DSB), which is their legal employer and which charges bureaus an obligatory fee of around US$100 per month to administer the employee’s social security contributions.
Foreign media organizations are not allowed to hire Chinese nationals as reporters, and Chinese citizens are not allowed to append their bylines to articles to which they have contributed.
Many assistants are monitored by security authorities, and some are regularly debriefed, intimidated and harassed. Half of survey respondents with assistants in 2014 said their assistants had been harassed or intimidated at least once, up from 35% in the 2013 survey. In total, the FCCC received reports of 79 such cases in 2014.
“One research assistant was detained overnight and an intern was pressured to spy on us, and then forced to quit the internship when he refused to cooperate with the Public Security Bureau”, a correspondent of an American media organization said.
“Colleagues [were] visited very late at night in a hotel by the local propaganda office and advised not to continue along a particular storyline. This happened on at least two stories, in different provinces,” a European TV correspondent said.
“After a run-in with a local city government, authorities threatened an assistant and continued to call him periodically for months afterwards, warning him not to return,” a European correspondent said.
Several assistants have reported that their relatives have also come under official pressure on account of their work.
The FCCC is not aware of other countries of China’s stature that do not allow foreign media organizations to manage their own staff, without interference from the host country, and ban their nationals from working as news reporters for foreign news organizations.
The FCCC advocates:
–An end to official intimidation of assistants and their relatives.
–Abolition of the requirement that assistants be hired through the DSB.
–Abolition of rules preventing Chinese citizens from appending their bylines or working as full-fledged correspondents for foreign media.
III. Harassment of Sources
Annual FCCC reports on working conditions in China have repeatedly documented the official harassment of Chinese citizens who exercise their right to free speech enshrined in China’s Constitution by talking with reporters. This is also a violation of Chinese government regulations stipulating that foreign journalists may interview anyone who consents to be interviewed. Such harassment is ongoing and appears to be increasing. In the FCCC’s 2014 Working Conditions report, 66 incidents were reported by 39 members, which may include multiple cases of harassment of a single source. In 2013, 23 cases were reported.
“A couple who shared with me a very sad story of mental disturbance after being forced into an abortion … was taken away by the police minutes after my interview”, a British correspondent said.
“As we were filming at a monastery where nuns take care of unwanted kids, officials from the local government called the nun and later showed up while we were filming, telling the nun that if she talked to us they would take away the kids”, a German correspondent said.
“After visiting a village for a story on family planning, all of our sources were afterwards contacted by police and state security and issued stern warnings. One source was told, ‘you know you can lose your life by talking to foreign journalists’”, a European TV reporter said.
The FCCC would like to see the government uphold citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of speech.
The FCCC urges both the central and local governments to enforce the rule allowing reporters to speak to anyone who consents to be interviewed, and to protect them from retribution. The government should investigate complaints when they receive them, and refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on where reporters can gather information.
About 100 countries have passed legislation to protect sources; China is an outlier among major world economies in its failure to abide by this international best practice. China is not living up to its promise to be open to the world while its citizens are not free to speak to foreign reporters.
The FCCC advocates:
–An end to the official intimidation of journalists’ sources.
–Passage of legislation guaranteeing the protection of journalists’ sources.
IV. Denial of Access to Government Information
While China has made some progress in increasing access to government information, it continues to erect barriers to the kind of transparency the world seeks from China to engage in full economic, cultural and political relations.
A chief concern is the apparently arbitrary classification of previously public information as a “state secret.” That practice has led to threats against news agencies who have released economic information ahead of its official publication date, even if that information had been openly discussed at a public event.
More recently, China’s top media regulator has effectively banned all domestic journalists from cooperating with foreign media, including providing any information related to their jobs, out of claims that such journalists might “disclose state secrets”.
“Journalists must never violate rules or provide any information about their professional conduct to other domestic or foreign media and websites. Nor can they act as any foreign media organization’s ‘contributing reporter’, ‘contributing correspondent’, ‘contributing writer’, or columnist”, the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film & Television (SAPPRFT) said in a July statement.
The regulator said that “professional conduct” refers to “any kind of information, source material or news product” acquired or made by “reporters, editors, broadcasters, anchors, as well as other newsroom staff who provide support to them”, including “state secrets”.
The FCCC calls on China to follow international practice in defining “state secret” narrowly, applying it only to information with immediate security or military implications.
Even on topics of little or no sensitivity, obtaining information from the Chinese government is unnecessarily difficult. Most officials of interest are unavailable, and ministries in general are slow and unresponsive to inquiries. Representatives of government agencies or affiliated organizations often discriminate against foreign media, withholding data and denying access to press events. Major press conferences, including the single one held annually by China’s prime minister, are staged events. Only a chosen few reporters, who have submitted acceptable questions beforehand, are allowed to ask them. While some foreign correspondents agree to this arrangement, seeing it as their only opportunity to ask questions at a high level, many refuse to go along with what they view as a charade.
For this and other reasons, it is often difficult for overseas investors and companies to get reliable information about China, making it more risky to do business here. If only for its own economic self-interest, China should strengthen the access to public information that its legislature enshrined in law a few years ago.
To its credit, China has done much in recent years to move to a regular and predictable schedule for economic data releases. This has aided in coverage of China’s dynamic and evolving economy, and has also helped create a level playing field for all news agencies, domestic or foreign, who regularly report on financial data. It has also reduced data leaks which benefited only a small group of insiders at the expense of the broader financial community and the public.
The FCCC also applauds the Chinese government’s publication of contact information for spokespersons working for ministries and provinces, as well as efforts by some ministries to hold regular and informative press conferences. Increased openness helps foreign journalists report accurately and completely on China’s policies and stances. With even more timely and informative responses to queries, China’s ministries could do more to help sate the global demand for information about the country.
The FCCC advocates:
— Ministries should hold more press conferences.
— Ministries should require that spokespeople be responsive and accommodating to inquiries.
— The Chinese government should enact stronger sunshine laws/freedom of information laws, and enforce those laws.
— The government should reduce the reach of state secrecy laws and reduce ambiguity.
— The government should encourage, not discourage, interaction between Chinese and foreign journalists in the cause of broadening understanding about China and the home countries of visiting journalists.
— The government should allow reporters to ask questions spontaneously at all government press conferences.
V. Denial of Foreign Media Access to the Chinese Market
International media companies continue to explore business opportunities in China, and for good reason. As of December 2013, China had an estimated 618 million internet users, including several million investors and business people interested in international financial data and news reporting. Companies such as the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Thomson Reuters have created Chinese-language web sites to tap into this burgeoning and underserved market.
Over the last two years, it has become clear that foreign media companies will only be allowed to expand into this market if they play by the Chinese government’s rules on what stories to cover, and what not to cover.
The English-language websites of organizations including The New York Times, The Guardian and Bloomberg have been blocked in China recently. The Chinese authorities target entire news organizations for intimidation and punishment especially after investigative reporting on so-called “sensitive” topics.
“After being part of the investigative team that published the ‘China Offshore Leaks’ story, the website of NDR (one of the regional broadcasters of ARD) was blocked and is still not available”, a German TV correspondent said.
After The New York Times published stories on the family wealth of former Premier Wen Jiabao, the government blocked access in mainland China to its Chinese-language website four months after it launched, in October of 2012, and it remains blocked. China also blocked a lifestyle-focused website the Times launched in 2013.
Also in 2012, Bloomberg’s website was blocked following publication of stories about the family wealth of incoming Chinese leader Xi Jinping. A year later, a Bloomberg reporter traveling to China with British Prime Minister David Cameron was barred from a press conference with Premier Li Keqiang.
Since late 2013, the government has periodically blocked access to the Chinese-language sites of both Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. The latter has operated for more than a decade, and had 2.2 million followers on Weibo, China’s closely monitored version of Twitter, when its website was blocked.
The FCCC is dismayed by the Chinese government’s apparent retaliation against media companies that — in their wide-ranging coverage of China — have published investigations that displease the government but have not been factually challenged. The FCCC calls on China to refrain from interfering in the private commercial contracts of any news organization, by blocking websites or restricting platforms that allow companies to deliver news and information to clients.
China regularly protests when foreign governments erect barriers that prevent Chinese companies from investing and engaging in business abroad. By blocking websites and preventing potential Chinese customers from accessing information needed for investment decisions, China is engaging in the same type of practices it regularly protests. The FCCC regards these practices as incompatible with the principles of free trade, and in violation of China’s commitment to non-discriminatory market access when it joined the World Trade Organization.
The FCCC advocates:
— The Chinese government should stop blocking websites of foreign media as a method of retaliation against coverage it finds objectionable.
— The government should abide by its World Trade Organization commitment to allow non-discriminatory market access.
VI. Punitive Visa Policies
China’s regulations regarding visas and licenses for news bureaus present significant barriers to news organizations seeking to enter China or expand operations here. Regulations also greatly restrict the work of freelance journalists.
1. RESIDENT (J-1) AND TEMPORARY (J-2) VISAS
China uses visa procedures to threaten journalists and news organizations for reporting that the government finds objectionable. It does this through its administration of J-1 visas for resident foreign journalists and J-2 visas for temporary journalists.
In 2013 it became patently obvious that Chinese authorities abuse the press card and J-1 visa renewal process in a political manner, treating journalistic accreditation as a privilege rather than a professional right, and punishing reporters and media organizations for the content of their previous coverage if it has displeased the government
For example, authorities withheld new press cards and visas until the very last moment from all foreign employees of the New York Times and Bloomberg, which had published articles about the private finances of relatives of leading members of the government. In the absence of any official explanation for the protracted delay in the issuance of their accreditation and visas, that delay would appear to have been intended to intimidate the bureaus concerned.
“I received my press card three days before my visa expired, two hours before my dog was scheduled for quarantine and 20 hours before a removal company was scheduled to pack my belongings”, one correspondent said in the FCCC’s 2014 visa survey.
Reporters for organizations including The New York Times have faced visa delays approaching two years – suggesting that China in fact has no intention of ever granting such documents, but uses non-approvals as de facto denial without ever having to say so. On occasion, Chinese authorities have rejected a correspondent selected by a foreign news organization and told the organization to choose someone else.
In rare cases, China has directly told reporters they could not receive a visa; for example, Paul Mooney, a journalist with Reuters, was informed eight months after he applied for a visa that he was being rejected. But more typically, China has engaged in a war of attrition, with reporters eventually giving up and relocating to Hong Kong, Taiwan or other assignments outside of the region.
Although most foreign press working in China do not face such extreme situations, China’s visa renewal requirements creates onerous and unneeded problems for them each year.
All foreign journalists are forced to surrender their passports for 15 working days in December, which makes traveling abroad impossible during this time.
Because many foreign journalists assigned to China are also responsible for covering other countries in Asia, this severely limits foreign news outlets’ ability to cover breaking news events across the continent. A streamlined and staggered visa renewal process would be more efficient.
The FCCC is disappointed that despite assurances from Foreign Ministry officials to the contrary, the Entry/Exit police refused in December 2013 to issue “fast track” visas to reporters who needed to travel abroad urgently for professional reasons. Authorities almost uniformly insisted that they could not issue visas in less than 15 working days, making exceptions in only a handful of cases in which applicants had close relatives who were seriously ill or who had died.
Authorities have used visa renewal interviews to threaten reporters with non-renewal, and reporters for some organizations have had visas rejected or experienced visa delays, causing serious disruptions to coverage.
The FCCC’s 2014 visa survey revealed that 18% of respondents had difficulties renewing their press cards or visas – twice as many as in the last survey (covering the visa renewal process at the end of 2011). Half of those who had difficulties said that they had been threatened with the non-renewal of their accreditation or visa because of their reporting.
“During the year the public security police warned me that my reporting might jeopardize my visa renewal”, one reporter said.
As for J-2 temporary visas, application procedures remain unnecessarily onerous, requiring reporters to submit letters of invitation from intended Chinese interviewees.
TV crews are required to post a cash bond of 20% of the value of all equipment they temporarily import, since China does not fully participate in the international carnet scheme.
2. NEWS BUREAU LICENSES
The application process for opening a bureau is overly cumbersome and time consuming, and some news organizations, including recognized international players such as the U.S. Public Broadcasting System (PBS), have not been issued licenses to open a bureau.
The FCCC is aware of two online-only news organizations that have in the past five years submitted applications for bureau licenses in China. As of mid-2014, neither had received permission (although at least one organization, the Huffington Post, has received an extended J-2 temporary journalist visa).
In 2008 the U.S. online news organization GlobalPost.com submitted a bureau license application. The license was never granted, and a subsequent application in 2011 via the PBS News Hour also failed. In 2009 the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the French online media organization Mediapart.fr that online media was considered as a blog and blogs could not open bureaus in mainland China.
This is unacceptable at a time when the trend in global media is toward online news.
3. FREELANCE JOURNALIST VISAS
China also uses visa policies to restrict freelance journalists.
As news organizations tighten their belts, many are increasingly depending on contributions from freelance journalists. As in other major countries freelance reporters in China are required to find a sponsoring news organization for their visa.
However, unlike in other countries, they are not allowed to report for additional organizations. This stymies coverage of China by making it costly and arduous for freelance journalists to operate in China, and excessively costly for smaller news organizations to obtain independent reporting from China.
In the 2011 FCCC Embassy survey, 85% of the diplomats who responded said that their countries do not have a special policy for freelance journalists. Freelancers are treated like staff journalists when applying for a visa.
The FCCC advocates:
–Non-interference in foreign media personnel decisions. Chinese authorities should issue visas to foreign media personnel selected by their organizations.
–Shorter visa processing time and greater transparency. The FCCC advises visa replacement times as follows:
For correspondent replacement: one month
For correspondent switching news organizations while based in China: one month
For new correspondent position: two months
For new bureau license: two months
The FCCC urges authorities to establish a hotline for queries regarding visas that are not granted within this time frame, and to provide reasons for delays.
–Improved J-1 visa renewal procedures
At present, the Chinese government renews visas for resident foreign correspondents (J-1 visas) at the end of each year. Foreign reporters who already have a visa undergo a two-step process of renewing their press card (issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and then obtaining a new visa (from the Public Security Bureau). This visa also serves as serves as a residence permit. The FCCC recommends a staggered renewal system that gives each foreign correspondent a full year from the date the visa was issued. If such a system is not feasible, the FCCC suggests the following improvements to the current protocol:
Allow applications for the press card from October.
Allow applicants to retain their passport during the renewal period, rather than requiring them to surrender their passports for 15 working days.
Stop using the visa renewal process to threaten or punish news organizations for reporting deemed undesirable by Chinese authorities.
–Streamlined approvals for J-2 visas for short-term reporting trips. The FCCC suggests:
A two-week approval process for feature stories, and two days for breaking news stories.
The establishment of a hotline for queries regarding visas that are not granted within this time frame, and
Abolition of the requirement that journalists obtain signed letters from potential interviewees before receiving a visa.
Simplification of the process for the temporary import of TV equipment.
–A streamlined process for granting bureau licenses and a protocol that affords Internet-only publications the same status as traditional print and broadcast outlets.
–Removal of requirements that require freelancers to obtain sponsorship from each organization they contribute to when requesting a J-1 or J-2 visa.
Summary of Recommendations
I. Reporting Conditions
a. Reporting in Tibet should be allowed.
b. Intimidation in Xinjiang and all other areas should stop.
c. Proactive and transparent investigations should be conducted when journalists are attacked by thugs or plainclothes operators.
d. The government should strive for greater transparency when interacting with journalists. Law enforcement personnel should identify themselves – as required by Chinese law. In cases where authorities interfere with reporting activities or force journalists to leave a news site, authorities should cite relevant laws.
e. The government should hold regular meetings with journalists and security authorities to discuss working practices that facilitate coverage at news sites where security is a concern, and establishment of a hotline for better communications.
f. The government and police should strive to provide greater assistance for journalists’ access to news sites, even in areas blocked off to the general public.
g. Authorities should stop using “ensuring your security” as an excuse to block reporters.
h. Authorities who search and confiscate material should provide signed papers documenting the search and listing any items confiscated, as mandated by Chinese law.
i. Authorities should reduce the number of public spaces such as parks and historic sites that require official permits for filming. The permits should only be required for monuments that require special protection. Monuments such as the Temple of Heaven, which allow access for masses of tourists, should be stricken from the list of restricted areas.
j. Authorities should stop targeting journalists with cyber attacks, malware and other electronic surveillance.
II. News Assistants
a. The government should stop intimidating assistants.
b. The government should abolish the requirement that assistants be hired through the DSB.
III. Harassment of Sources
a. The government should top intimidating, harassing and retaliating against journalists’ sources.
b. The government should pass legislation guaranteeing the protection of journalists’ sources.
c. The government should abolish rules preventing Chinese citizens from appending their bylines or working as full-fledged correspondents for foreign media.
IV. Denial of Access to Government Information
a. Ministries should hold more press conferences.
b. Ministries should require that spokespeople be responsive and accommodating to inquiries.
c. The government should enact stronger sunshine laws/freedom of information, and enforce those laws.
d. The government should reduce the reach of state secrecy laws and reduce ambiguity.
e. The government should encourage, not discourage, interaction between Chinese and foreign journalists in the cause of broadening understanding about China and the home countries of visiting journalists.
f. The government should allow reporters to ask questions spontaneously at all government press conferences.
V. Denial of Foreign Media Access to the Chinese Market
a. The government should stop blocking websites of foreign media as a method of retaliation against coverage it finds objectionable.
b. The government should abide by its World Trade Organization commitment to allow non-discriminatory market access.
VI. Punitive Visa Policies
a. The government should stop interfering in foreign media personnel decisions. In keeping with international best practices, Chinese authorities should issue visas to foreign media personnel selected by their organizations.
b. Visa decisions should be made with greater transparency and processing times should be shortened as follows:
–For correspondent switching news organizations while based in China: one month
–For new correspondent position: two months
–For new bureau license: two months
–Furthermore, The FCCC urges authorities to establish a hotline for queries regarding visas that are not granted within this time frame, and to provide reasons for delays.
c. J-1 visa renewal procedures should be improved, including changes to:
–Allow applications for the press card from October.
–Allow applicants to retain their passport during the renewal period, rather than requiring them to surrender their passports for 15 working days.
–Stop using the visa renewal process to threaten or punish news organizations for reporting deemed undesirable by Chinese authorities. Authorities have used visa renewal interviews to threaten reporters with non-renewal, and some news organizations have had reporters rejected or experienced visa delays, causing serious disruptions to coverage.
d. Approvals for J-2 visas for short-term reporting trips should be streamlined. The FCCC suggests:
— A two-week approval process for feature stories, and two days for breaking news stories.
–The establishment of a hotline for queries regarding visas that are not granted within this time frame, and
–Abolishment of the requirement that journalists obtain signed letters from potential interviewees before receiving a visa.
— Simplification of the process for the temporary import of TV equipment.