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China's Parliament Session a Prelude to Olympic-driven Media Transparency
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As China relaxed decades-old restrictions on foreign media, the upcoming annual parliament session, along with a session of top political advisors, is expected to become a prelude to the country's further openness to foreign observers.


China became a news-maker in 2006 with a stunning 10.7 percent gross domestic product growth, a tough hand against corruption and active involvement on international affairs like the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.


This has attracted unprecedented global attention to the country's top political sessions -- the annual full meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC) and that of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), slated to open on March 5 and 3 respectively.


By 2 PM Thursday, two days before the CPPCC session opens, the number of foreign reporters to cover the so-called Chinese "Two Sessions" had reached 527, exceeding that of last year, according to the press center of the NPC and CPPCC sessions.


"We are glad to see some news organizations from Asia and Africa send in their reporters to cover the two sessions for the first time this year," said Cong Wu, an official from the press center in charge of foreign reporters reception.


The newcomers, mostly news organizations with no resident correspondents posted in China, have benefited from the newly- adopted regulations on foreign media openness, as they no longer need to apply for reporting the events months ahead or wait for official permission as they had to before, according to Cong.


China has enacted a set of new regulations granting foreign journalists more freedom to report in China in the run-up to and during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games since the beginning of this year. The regulations are scheduled to expire on October 17, 2008.


Under the regulations, foreign journalists who are non-residents in China will not necessarily have to be accompanied or assisted by a Chinese official when they report in China.


Foreign journalists also no longer need to apply to provincial foreign affairs offices for permission to report in all provinces of China, but need only obtain prior consent of the organizations or individuals they want to interview.


Jaime FlorCruz, CNN Beijing Bureau chief correspondent, takes the new rules as "experimental and positive" changes in China's opening up to foreign observers despite skepticism over how earnest the grass-root officials will be in implementing the relaxed media rules.


Jaime recalled the days of "hunting the session participants" at hotels or in the lounge of the Great Hall of the People, where full meetings of the lawmakers and advisors are held.


"It's like we were playing the hide-and-seek with interviewees. The worst is we finally got them but they declined our request for interview by asking us to play the 'routine' -- getting the official permission first," said Jaime, who has studied and worked in China for more than 30 years.


Jaime's lousy experience is expected not to be repeated this year thanks to the new regulations.


The press center of the two sessions just re-confirmed on Thursday that foreign reporters are free to make contacts with and interview the NPC deputies and CPPCC members themselves. It also released information online concerning which hotel is accommodating which specific delegation and the route to the hotels, the first such practice in more than 50 years.


Jaime said that the CNN Beijing office will send a team of six or more to cover this year's two sessions -- almost the same crew number as last year's, but "definitely with higher expectations than before".


"I hope the NPC deputies or the CPPCC members will be more open and spontaneous, and there will be more press conferences," he said.


However, the newly-obtained procedural convenience doesn't necessarily mean that foreign reporters can always get useful information from their interviewees, especially when it comes to some cautious officials.


NPC deputy Song Yuhua, also vice mayoress of Deyang City in southwestern China's inland province of Sichuan, has showed a mixed feeling toward the possible "face-to-face" encounter with foreign media.


"I have not received any interview application from foreign media before, so I'm not well prepared (for foreign reporters' interview) this time," Song told Xinhua News Agency upon her arrival in Beijing on Thursday. "The two sessions will give me a chance to learn how to deal with foreign media."


"I will be cautious as I know little of them, but I will not say 'no' to their request (for an interview)," she said. "Actually, I will have more confidence if asked about how the central government polices, like those on social security and health care for farmers, are implemented at grass-root level, because I'm familiar with these topics."


Experts, however, urge the officials to further expand their horizon and learn how to conduct more effective communication with the media.


The 2008 Beijing Olympics is an important factor that has obviously promoted the adoption of the new rules, but the socio- economic changes in China over the part two decades are also pushing the country to become more and more transparent, said Yu Guoming, a professor with School of Journalism and Communication under the Beijing-based Renmin University of China.


"It has thus required the officials to follow the trend (of openness), to lay down their psychological defense against foreign media and to get used to the international norms and standards of media management. Actually, it's a very important test for their governance capability," said Yu.


"In the meantime, foreign media should also cast away their outdated concept, sometimes even bias against China, so as to seize the opportunity of the two sessions to introduce a real China to the world in an objective way."


(Xinhua News Agency March 2, 2007)

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