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China extends Olympic media freedoms for foreign press: govt
AFP[Saturday, October 18, 2008 11:19]
BEIJING, October 17 - China on Friday announced it had extended rules introduced for the Olympics allowing foreign reporters greater freedoms, but there was no easing of restrictions for domestic press.

The move means that foreign journalists will continue to be able to carry out interviews and travel around China with greater ease, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters at a late night press conference.

"This is not only a big step forward for China in opening up to the outside world, for the foreign journalists it's also a big step," Liu said.

The previous rules, introduced on January 1 last year as part of China's Olympic commitments to give foreign reporters more freedoms, were set to expire on Friday, two months after the end of the Beijing Games.

As was the case during the Olympic period, foreign reporters will have the freedom to conduct interviews with consenting Chinese, rather than having first to seek government permission, Liu said.

Journalists will also be allowed to report outside the city in which they are officially based, rather than having to get authorisation.

However, reporters will continue to have to seek permission from local authorities to gain access to the sensitive Himalayan region of Tibet, where the military quelled protests against Chinese rule in March.

Liu also confirmed that, as was previously the case, the rules did not apply to domestic media and Chinese nationals would remain barred from working for foreign media organisations as journalists.

"We have to say that the conditions are not mature for Chinese citizens to become journalists alongside foreign journalists," Liu said.

China's ruling Communist Party seeks to maintain strict controls on the flow of information within the country, and the domestic press are kept on a tight leash.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said it welcomed the decision to extend the Olympic media freedoms.

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

However, the club cautioned that, as with during the Olympic period, correct implementation of the rules at the local level was essential.

"We urge the government to ensure that police and local officials respect the spirit as well as the letter of the new rules," Watts said.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club has recorded more than 335 cases of authorities interfering with reporters, such as detaining journalists and harassing their sources, since January 1 last year.

"The easing of controls for foreign journalists should not be achieved at the expense of putting more pressure on local sources," Watts said.

The correspondents' club also called on China to introduce laws that would protect sources, and to scrap rules that force hotels to report to police when foreign journalists check in.
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