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Foreign Reporters Hail Media Freedom
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The New Year's Day of 2007 saw only a few foreign journalists in Tian'anmen Square, a place where many of them used to interview Chinese on wishes for the coming year.

Some journalists chose to travel to other parts of China for more important news, thanks to China's new regulations granting foreign journalists more freedom that came into effect on Monday.

Reuters datelined a story "HOHHOT" on Monday, becoming the first foreign media to report in other Chinese cities besides Beijing and Shanghai without application to authorities.

The Reuters report said "foreign journalists had needed government permission to report outside their home base -- usually Beijing or Shanghai -- but under the new rules, which came into force on Monday, they need only the agreement of the person they are interviewing."

To interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their consent, according to the "Regulations on Reporting Activities in China by Foreign Journalists during the Beijing Olympic Games and the Preparatory Period."

The new regulations also allow foreign journalists to hire Chinese citizens through organizations providing services to foreign nationals to assist them in their reporting activities, while relaxing other restrictions.

Observers agree that foreign journalists now enjoy more freedom in reporting on China.

Foreign media reacted instantly to the new regulations. The National Broadcasting Co. (NBC) of the United States decided to send journalists to China; The Associated Press planned to hire Chinese to enhance its China reports; The number of New York Times journalists in China rose to five, making its Chinese office the biggest one in Asia.

Benjamin Lim with Reuters, who has been in China for ten years, told Xinhua that he interviewed a person on Monday without the application process as before, which he said was really a step forward.

Lim had wanted to interview the person and applied in 2004. However, the interview was not conducted until Monday due to complicated application process.

At the end of December 2006, there were 606 resident journalists from 319 foreign news organizations of 49 countries in China. They were usually based in Beijing and Shanghai, according to statistics from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

About 3,000 to 5,000 foreign journalists came to China annually in recent years for short-term assignments.

The effect of the new foreign media regulations are yet to be clear and some journalists are testing.

Benjamin Lim said some of his friends chose to report on village democracy and other topics in three cities after the foreign media regulations became effective. He was not clear about the development of their job.

However, one journalist was banned from an interview in an east China city by local officials who said, "Sorry we do not know about the regulations at the moment."

Ben Blanchard, writer of the Reuters story datelined "HOHHOT" on Monday, met no trouble in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. He said he would continue to work there until Wednesday.

Reuters is not the only foreign media that plans to conduct interviews in other parts of China besides Beijing and Shanghai. Takanori Kato, Shanghai bureau chief of Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, said although Beijing and Shanghai are political and economical hubs of China, interviews in other places are still needed to know a whole China.

In the past, he had to do interviews by telephone when something happened outside Beijing and Shanghai as it would have taken at least several days to get official approval to go there.

The new regulations will enable Takanori Kato to travel instantly for news, and "allow the world know quickly what is happening in China," the Japanese journalist said.

Zhang Yongheng, a journalist with the Chinese newspaper People's Daily, said he could feel the pressure and competition since he would see foreign counterparts on the occasions that used to be witnessed only by Chinese journalists before the new foreign media regulations.

China has grown to be the world's fourth largest economy and foreign coverage of China has risen sharply in 2006, said China's top publicity official Cai Wu. The coverage by certain media jumped by 30 percent or 40 percent.

Liu Jianchao, director of the Information Department of Chinese Foreign Ministry, said foreign journalists would enjoy more and more freedom in China, as well as better and better working environment.

(Xinhua News Agency January 2, 2007)

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