November 2, 2021
Foreign Correspondents Club of China Statement on Olympic Coverage
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) is concerned about the lack of transparency and clarity from the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with regards to Olympic-related reporting in China. We call on the BOCOG and the IOC to improve international reporting conditions in the run-up to, and during, the Games.
Over the last year, the foreign press corps has been continuously stymied in its coverage of Winter Olympic Game preparations, denied attendance at routine events, and prevented from visiting sports venues in China. Our members’ repeated inquiries towards BOCOG on how international media can report on the Games have been met with conflicting answers or neglected completely.
Such behavior fails to uphold the IOC’s own Olympic Charter, in which Rule 48 requires the committee take “all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.” With less than three months remaining before the start of Beijing 2022, there is still tremendous uncertainty over how and if foreign correspondents will be able to cover the Games.
In its bid for the 2022 Winter Games, China explicitly promised that “media seeking to report on the Games would have freedom to report… and would also be free to report on Games preparations“.
Yet in the last year, the foreign press corps has largely been unable to attend any press conferences or even observe routine events – such as venue visits or the arrival of the Olympic flame – which are open to Chinese domestic media. Many event dates are not publicized beforehand, or BOCOG announces them with only hours left to spare. Foreign journalists who attempt to register for events are denied because BOCOG limits attendance to only their chosen media outlets, claim the event is full, or because they require participants to submit COVID test results within an impossible timeframe of only a few hours.
China has also left the specific conditions in which international journalists can enter China to cover the Olympics unclear. For example, will reporters with accreditation for Beijing 2022 be able to travel outside of the Olympic bubbles in and around the capital city, will they be required to quarantine, and if so under what conditions?
Furthermore, the closure of China’s borders since March 2020 and additional delays in granting international media organizations new visas to send reporters to the mainland have resulted in literally dozens of empty posts, further decimating Olympic coverage. This is a stark contrast to the coverage which was possible during the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and deprives the world of informative coverage from across China.
The IOC’s website features an “Integrity and Compliance Hotline” which allows reporters to raise any “violations journalists and media representatives working on Olympic Games-related coverage may have experienced.” Unfortunately, the hotline is not yet open for Beijing 2022 coverage. Similarly, other nominal commitments to press access have also come to nothing: FCCC members report spending weeks trying to obtain contact details for BOCOG media facilitators, only to receive dismissive or inaccurate information from them.
The FCCC calls on BOCOG and the IOC to improve international media access to Olympics events and reporting guidelines by assigning communication officers to deal with coverage-related inquiries in a timely and accurate manner and by making all pre-Olympic events open to all accredited journalists in China.
The FCCC also requests that dozens of outstanding journalist visa applications be approved before the start of Beijing 2022, so that media outlets have more experienced reporters on the ground to cover the Games. Resolving these issues is of utmost importance before thousands of international journalists from print and broadcast outlets prepare to enter China to cover the next Olympic Games in February.
Below are experiences from a broad cross-section of FCCC members who have tried to cover the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Media organizations may use any of the quotes below in their own reports.
“We put together a TV story with material from a tour of an Olympic venue and mentioned human rights boycotts. Soon after, the tour organizer called me on WeChat, the Chinese chat app, and yelled at me in English and Chinese for my report, threatening not to invite us in the future. We haven’t been given access since.” – reporter at an international broadcaster
“I emailed BOCOG to ask for accreditation for a luge test event. A representative replied eight days later telling me to email the press and publicity department at BOCOG, which I did. No reply. Emailed another BOCOG address regarding a ski test event a month ago. No reply.”– reporter for an American broadcaster
“I visited the Yanqing Olympic venues and took some photos with my iPhone along a public road. A security guard in a SUV began following slowly. Pretty soon, a police squad car showed up with lights flashing. They wanted to know what I was doing there and took pictures of my passport. We stood there for half an hour, before they told me that any questions had to go to the Olympics organizers. Then they left. It was sunset, but a couple more guards got in my way if I tried to take any photos in the near darkness.” – reporter for an American newspaper
“The BOCOG provided the entire Japanese press corps with just two seats to cover the arrival of the Olympic flame. We chose one reporter and one photographer by lottery, but the photographer was barred because they had travelled nearly two weeks before to a county with a handful of COVID cases. We were notified in the last minute, so BOCOG told us that we didn’t have enough time to choose a replacement.” – reporter with an East Asian outlet
“BOCOG has provided slow and incorrect information. I tried for a month to get accreditation for test events from BOCOG but was denied because BOCOG said it would only allow outlets from the last, current, and next host countries of Olympic Games. I sent interview requests to the Chinese Sports Association (CSA) for several Chinese athletes, Chinese coaches, and a foreign coach working for a Chinese team. CSA denied all requests, and athletes are not allowed to do interviews without CSA approval. There is no access at all.” – reporter for a European newspaper
“We have not managed to receive accreditation, and our complaints to BOCOG have received no reply. When we traveled to an Olympic area, we were followed by plainclothes officers, including in areas outside the Olympic venue.” – reporter for a European broadcaster
“We applied well ahead of time for test game accreditation three times between August and October 2021, but every time BOCOG told us it was too late to apply or our application was not answered at all.” -reporter for a European broadcaster
“My repeated requests for access to film Olympic ski-grounds have been denied since 2020. Interview requests for athletes, their trainers, and public officials are all turned down. We were denied access to winter sports test games. The only access we received was to film an empty ice-skating rink.” – reporter for a European broadcaster
“BOCOG did not grant us access to its venues, so I went up to the locations myself in October 2021, but I was stopped at the entrance to the winter sports slopes in Chongli and Yanqing. This lack of access means Chinese state media claims about the environmental sustainability of venues are impossible to verify.” – reporter for a European newspaper
“After repeated requests, one coach from my home country who is training a Chinese team agreed to give me an interview, but not at an Olympic venue. We were filming outside his accommodation, and the Chinese admin representative of the team suddenly appeared, warn us that China does not want to expose its team’s training methods so we could not even film outside the building.” – reporter with an international news agency