Put in place prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and due to end roughly a month after the Paralympics, the measures to afford greater independence to foreign reporters in China are about three weeks from ending. Now there is speculation about whether these freedoms will continue at all, or whether the rules will return to pre-Olympic levels.
If the old rules come back into play, this is what it means:
- Reporters will be required again to seek advance permission from the Foreign Ministry for any trip outside of their base, such as Beijing.
- And reporters will no longer be free to interview anyone who agrees to an interview request. Rather, interviews must be vetted by authorities.
Johnson’s article reveals a lot, including a statement from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China:
“The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China urges the government to build an Olympic legacy by enshrining the pledge of openness in new rules for foreign correspondents.
“In keeping with China’s efforts to become a more open society, we urge the government to recognize in the new regulations for foreign correspondents that the free flow of information is crucial to the proper functioning of the globalized world.”
The authorities are being typically pragmatic on the matter, acknowledging the situation in an official statement without committing to any particular policy.
Johnson and Imagethief (Will Moss) are not that optimistic:
[Moss] Personally Imagethief feels that the Olympic honeymoon is now over. The downside is that I expect the reporting rules to be allowed to lapse and the air to once again silt up with grunge. The upside is that all the things that were tightened for the Olympics –visas, various petty registration requirements, limits on where you can and can’t hike/film/run/walk/drip ice cream– will relax.
[Johnson] Less than a month from now, we will find out if China will maintain its attitude of greater openness with the foreign media. My bet is that it won’t.
Bob is inclined to follow such opinions. The Chinese government are particularly adept at controlled interpretation of their own laws – a key to their ability to maintain stability and control. We will now head back into a time of more ambiguity (which as Imagethief points out, isn’t all bad), allowing the authorities to stamp out particular news stories, but to allow other infringements passed.
But will the Olympics have a legacy in reporting freedoms for foreign and local journalists…? Much like the official discussion of this topic, that question is rhetorical; it is not for Bob to say, but any legacy is certainly not as profound as the IOC may have foreseen.