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China to improve access for media

August 16, 2009

Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing
August 14, 2009

China says it will become more open to foreign
journalists by dealing with requests within 24 hours, reports say.

A senior government official said ministries must
designate people to deal with overseas reporters
as part of this "zero refusal" policy.

China says it has already become far more open
towards the foreign media since last year's Beijing Olympics.

Despite this, reporters still face official
obstacles and intimidation in their efforts to cover China.

The new policy was laid out by Guo Weimin, from
the government's State Council Information
Office, in an article in the China Daily, the
main state-run English-language newspaper.

Mr Guo said government departments had to act
faster when dealing with calls and interview requests from foreign journalists.

He said: "It doesn't mean all applications will
be accepted, but we have to tell the media how we
handled it so they can understand."

"Authorities are using intimidation to silence
sources and prevent [Chinese] assistants [of
foreign journalists] from doing their jobs" --
Scott McDonald Foreign Correspondents' Club of China

China has for some time said it is now more open
to inquiries from foreign reporters.

In January 2007 it introduced new rules that
changed the way foreign reporters operate in the
country. These gave correspondents easier access to interviewees.

But China remains a challenging place to work,
partly because of government interference,
according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

Certain sensitive areas, such as Tibet, remain
out-of-bounds for foreign journalists, apart from
those who join officially-sanctioned - and monitored - trips.

'Send a fax'

The FCCC also said the government engaged in intimidation.

"Authorities are using intimidation to silence
sources and prevent [Chinese] assistants [of
foreign journalists] from doing their jobs," said
FCCC President Scott McDonald.

There are also other difficulties.

Senior officials rarely give interviews,
questions and interview requests are often
ignored, and the foreign media is sometimes the
target of official vilification.

Mr Guo was not reported to have said anything
about Chinese journalists, who face strict
censorship and restrictions in their work.

The BBC contacted the State Council's media
department to confirm that the comments in the
China Daily by Mr Guo were correct.

No one was immediately available to answer the
query - we were advised to fax the department our questions.
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