10/18/2008, 00.00
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"Freedoms" granted for Olympics extended for foreign journalists

They can conduct interviews and travel "without prior authorization," although there is no guarantee that scrutiny of them will be relaxed. The permissions were set to expire yesterday. But the provisions do not apply to the Chinese media, and the international press is recalling hundreds of cases of intimidation and threats.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China is extending some of the "freedoms" granted to the foreign press beginning January 1, 2007, in view of the Olympics, set to expire yesterday at midnight. So for example, journalists will be able to continue conducting interviews without asking for prior authorization.

The foreign media can also continue traveling around the country without permits, as before. But it is not clear if they will be able to do this freely, or under "the supervision" of officials from the foreign ministry.

Before making the announcement, Qin Gang, spokesman for the foreign ministry, reiterated that "the Chinese government will stick firm to opening up and reform, and we will continue to welcome foreign journalists to report in China."

The announcement is welcomed by the foreign press, although cases has been recalled in which the authorities blocked their work: like with the refusal of permission to go to Tibet after the protests in March, or to Sichuan three weeks after the serious earthquake. The Foreign Correspondents' Club in China (FCCC) has compiled a list of at least 336 cases in which the authorities "interfered" in interviews. There are hundreds of reports of correspondents being intimidated or threatened by officials.

For this reason, Jocelyn Ford, director of the FCCC, says "We hope that China can move more into line with international best practice," in part by ensuring greater respect for interviews, and stopping surveillance of reporters.

Li Datong, a prominent Chinese journalist, says "This is a historic trend. They could not possibly backtrack [on the relaxations] and there is no need to do so."

The rules also apply to journalists from Hong Kong and Macau (and Taiwan, as Xinhua specifies), but not to Chinese journalists, who therefore remain entirely in the grip of the strict control and censorship of the authorities.

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