It’s been almost a week since the Beijing Olympics new media regulations became effective on January 1st. Are there any significant changes for foreign journalists working in China? There was a mix of good and bad news in this first week. Bao Tong, the former aid of the Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, was approved by the government on January 1st to be interviewed by Reuters. Bao was jailed following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and he has been outspoken about the Chinese government since being kept under house arrest after he was released from prison in 1996. Refer to my earlier post for his latest essay published by Radio Free Asia.

On the other hand, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was released from detention since he received a three-year suspended prison sentence on December 22nd but his whereabouts is unknown. RFA interviewed his family members and friends and the speculation is that the Chinese government kicked Gao out of Beijing a few days before the New Year so he would not be accessible to foreign journalists.

Two days ago, Wang Guoqing, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office told China Daily about the need to change government officials’ attitude from “managing” to “serving the media.” He cautioned that the change in attitude might not take place immediately outside of the major cities because many officials are used to the “Regulations on the Supervision of Foreign Journalists and Resident Foreign News Organs” enforced since 1990. He encouraged government officials from the local level to interact with the media more openly, like holding press conferences.

It seems to me there is a lot of talk but not enough action. Part of the new media regulations include the freedom to interview individuals or organizations with only their prior consent which has been contradicted by the Bao Tong’s interview since it was pre-approved. Reuters also requested to interview Shanghai lawyer Zheng Enchong but the request was denied because Zheng was stripped his political rights which means he is not allowed to talk to the media. And taking Gao Zhisheng out of Beijing is the new low of press freedom.

I am anxious to see whether any foreign journalists will be allowed to check out locations of recent social unrest because that’s where the real action is from the aftermath of China’s economic boom and years of human rights neglect.

Related news and links: