Chinese Regime Tightens Its Grip on Media Ahead of Olympic Games

December 12, 2007 Updated: January 15, 2018

Apparently fed up with hearing criticism over its lack of media transparency, Chinese authorities this week banned representatives of press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders from entering the country.

Reporters Without Borders was planning to hold a press conference in Beijing on Dec. 8 to decry Chinese authorities’ failure to improve freedom of the press. They were denied visas to enter the country, and instead held the press event in Hong Kong.

“At a time when the government is compiling files on foreign journalists and human rights activists in advance of the Olympic Games, this refusal is evidence of its determination to keep critics at a distance,” said Reporters Without Borders in a press statement.

“The Chinese authorities are clearly not prepared to let people remind them of the [promises] they gave to improve the situation of human rights and, in particular, press freedom when they were awarded the 2008 Olympics in 2001,” it continued.

While bidding to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in 2001, Chinese authorities promised that the Games would help improve China’s human rights and press freedom, and that foreign reporters would have “complete freedom to report” during the Olympics.

China is currently the world’s leading jailer of journalists, bloggers, and other cyber-dissidents. Reporters Without Borders knows of 33 journalists currently imprisoned, and at least 49 cyber-dissidents, most of whom are detained in appalling conditions. At least three Epoch Times reporters are in prison in China today.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2007, Chinese authorities promised to ease restraints on the activities of foreign journalists, allowing a free and transparent reporting environment and permission to interview any consenting subject.

Since then, Reporters Without Borders has documented at least 60 cases of Chinese police detaining, harassing, or otherwise obstructing the activities of foreign journalists in their work.

Last month, news broke that Chinese authorities are compiling a database of personal information on some 28,000 foreign reporters expected to be in the country during the Olympic Games.

Crackdowns on Reporters

According to the Associated Press, a survey of 163 China-based foreign reporters found that 40 percent of them have experienced some form of state interference to their work since Jan. 1, including surveillance, detention, and intimidation of their sources.

On Nov. 20, for example, a Swiss television reporter and her Chinese cameraman were manhandled and detained for seven hours by Chinese police in Hebei Province, near Beijing. On the same day in Hubei Province in central China, a Swiss husband and wife team of photographers were arrested and detained while doing a report on villagers who had been threatened and beaten in connection with a land dispute.

In October, British journalists were seized, roughed up, and detained when they uncovered secret “black jails” in Beijing where Chinese authorities hold and torture thousands of (mostly rural) citizens who go to Beijing to seek redress for injustices.

The regime applied its pressure in Canada last month as well. Just hours before Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) was set to air a documentary about the persecution of the Falun Gong in China, the documentary was pulled. Though CBC denies it pulled the documentary due to political pressure from China, they admit to having received several phone calls from the Chinese Embassy. The film was shown on CBC weeks later with edits, including the removal of an interview quote in which the Beijing Olympics is compared to the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany.

Reporters Without Borders attempted to draw attention to the issue of press freedom with an informal media conference on Aug. 6 outside the office of the Olympic Games Organization Committee in Beijing. Several members of the foreign media that covered the event were detained and interrogated, as were the four Reporters Without Borders representatives present.

In November, Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on what it calls the “four fakes” of journalism, including “fake reporters,” “fake news,” and “fake publications.” It is not immediately clear what criteria is used to assess the veracity of the above, though the vague nature of the mandate makes it easy for authorities to classify any media organization or reporter who does not toe the party line as “fake,” allowing the Communist Party to dictate what constitutes real news.

The Chinese media has fared even worse than their foreign counterparts. Already entirely state-run or state-approved, the Chinese media has faced even tougher restrictions on their activities recently.

Last month, Chinese authorities issued an order prohibiting the Chinese media from covering stories that reflect negatively on the regime, including stories about environmental problems and public health issues. In August, according to the China Daily, a sweep targeting “fake” publications shut down some 300 media operations not registered with the Communist Party.

Olympic Bylaws on Media

Article 51 of the Olympic Charter states that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) must take “all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.” The Charter also states that all decisions regarding media coverage of the Olympics must be made by the IOC—not by the host nation.

Critics and human rights advocates have pointed out that Beijing is in contravention of several other Olympic bylaws. According to China Aid Association, the Chinese Public Security Bureau has issued a confidential order banning any broadly defined “antagonistic” persons, “illegal organizations,” and “media which could harm the Olympic Games” from the attending the Beijing Olympics.

According to a report from the Associated Press, Chinese authorities have also stated that adherents of the Falun Gong—an ancient practice of meditation and moral improvement —which was banned by the Communist Party in 1999, will not be allowed to attend the games.

The Olympic bylaws state that “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

Reporters Without Borders has written numerous letters to the IOC asking the organization to exert pressure on Beijing to honor its promises on human rights and press freedom (see the Opinion page for more). They say the IOC has responded simply that it is not a “political” organization.

The IOC did not respond to inquiries by The Epoch Times at the time of this article.