BEIJING, May 19 (Reuters) - A big majority of foreign journalists in China believe reporting conditions have worsened in the past year, and 70 percent who answered a survey said they have been harassed, according to initial findings from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.
The accounts of tightening official pressure on foreign reporters came in the preliminary results of a survey published on Thursday, and reflect recent friction between journalists and police who have tried to deter reporting from sites of potential protest.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party was alarmed by calls that spread online in February for “jasmine revolution” protest gatherings inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world.
Though the calls never drew big crowds, dozens of dissidents, human rights advocates and persistent protesters were detained or put in informal custody to deter any participation. Police and guards shoved, harassed, detained and in a few cases beat foreign journalists trying to report from the designated protest sites in Beijing and Shanghai.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China annual survey drew 108 responses from 225 members, and 94 percent of those who answered said reporting conditions had deteriorated.
“Seventy percent of respondents said they had experienced interference, harassment and/or violence in the past year,” said an email from the club.
China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked about the survey, said the club “lacked legality,” but added reporting freedom in China was “continuing to increase.”
“If people experience difficulties when going about their work, the Foreign Ministry’s news department is very willing to help increase communication through normal channels to reasonably resolve problems,” spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing.
Forty percent of respondents said sources had been harassed, detained, questioned by officials or suffered other repercussions after contact with foreign reporters.
According to rules issued before the Beijing Olympics of 2008, China allows foreign reporters to interview anyone as long as they have that person’s permission.
Yet the government has imposed growing limits on that rule, especially when it comes to sensitive subjects. Tibet remains off-limits apart from government-organised visits.
Police designated Wangfujing, the Beijing shopping street intended as the centre of protests in February, as off-limits for reporting without approval.
They have done the same for an area in northwest Beijing where an evicted Protestant church tried to hold outdoor worship gatherings, drawing the attention of foreign reporters who were pushed away by police and guards. [ID:nL3E7GC1C9]
While foreign journalists are sometimes harassed in China, local reporters have a far harder time and there has been no sign of the government relaxing its grip on them. Chinese reporters can be fired or even jailed for writing stories that stray too far from the government line. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Daniel Magnowski)