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Reporters Laud Expanded Media Freedom
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Foreign journalists have applauded new regulations that offer them free access to report from China in the run-up to, and during, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


The regulations, which take effect on January 1, allow foreign reporters to interview and report on all aspects of China, not just the Olympics.


The most appreciated change is that foreign journalists will no longer need to apply to local government authorities for permission to report they only need to obtain consent of the organization or individual they want to interview.


The regulations represent an important move the Olympic organizers have taken to honor their promises and commitments on press freedom made during Beijing's bid to host the Games.


"We can talk with anyone or shoot pictures just about any place, as long as the interviewees agree," said Jaime FlorCruz, Beijing Bureau Chief of CNN. "It is a welcome change."


There are currently 606 resident journalists from 319 foreign news organizations of 49 countries working in China. About 3,000 to 5,000 foreign journalists visit China each year, according to a Xinhua report.


"Previously, each city we went to, we had to go to the local authority for approval. But sometimes, we didn't even get it," said Osman Erol, representative correspondent of Cihan News Agency of Turkey.


Erol was once told to wait for two or three days when he applied to take some photos at a mosque.


"Time is very important in the media industry. We couldn't wait that long," he said.


While welcoming the new rules, foreign reporters have raised concerns as well particularly over how the regulations are implemented.


"As we say, the devil is in the detail," FlorCruz said.


"If we go out to do stories, especially in provinces or small towns, will the local officials follow the regulations?" FlorCruz said it is vital for central government officials to make sure local officials observe the rules.


"Local officials need to be told that foreign journalists can freely report in their areas," he said.


Obstacles crop up at places other than Beijing because local officials still worry that journalists will only report bad news, FlorCruz said.


"They see us as trouble-makers, especially when we do stories that look into official abuse, disasters, and personal tragedies just like what most Chinese media do," he said.


In fact, free access helps both sides, he said.


"It will help improve our reporting in China in both quantity and quality," FlorCruz said. "So our readers or viewers can have a deeper understanding and more complete picture of what's going on in China. Thus it is good for China, too."


FlorCruz hopes that the regulations will be in force even after the Olympics and foreign journalists will enjoy more freedom in China.


Cai Wu, minister of the State Council Information Office, responded yesterday by saying that the regulations might be extended.


"If the new regulations prove beneficial to our development and exchanges between us and foreign media there will be no need to change the policy," he told a news briefing.


Yu Guoming, associate dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at Renmin University of China, said the regulations are just an experiment.


"If they bring benefits, the government will surely let them stay in place," he said.


Rong Jiaojiao, with a domestic media organization based in Beijing, said: "The new rules will help foreign reporters produce more balanced stories with more sources and background information."


"It will be a challenge and a good chance for us to learn from each other."


(China Daily December 29, 2006)

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