China says foreign press welcome, as some media outlets excluded from key event

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday told foreign journalists to roam the country and report more, even as five global news organisations found themselves without invitations to cover his speech.

China's President Xi Jinping arrives to attend a meeting with the media at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The BBC, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The New York Times were not invited to the event where Xi introduced his new leadership line-up following a once-in-five-years Communist Party Congress, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said.

Two Reuters journalists were invited.

“We encourage reporters to travel and see more of China... to learn about and continue to report on more aspects of China,” Xi told a gathering of Chinese and international journalists.

He did not take questions.

“We do not need lavish praise from others. However, we do welcome objective reporting and constructive suggestions.”

Under Xi, China has stepped up censorship and tightened controls on the internet and various aspects of civil society.

Reporting conditions for foreign journalists in China have deteriorated in recent years, according to media watchdog groups, with areas of the country including Tibet effectively off-limits.

The FCCC criticized the exclusion of the Western news organisations.

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that these media organisations have been singled out to send a message,” the FCCC said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“Using media access as a tool to punish journalists whose coverage the Chinese authorities disapprove of is a gross violation of the principles of press freedom.”

The Beijing bureau chiefs at the Economist and Financial Times both confirmed to Reuters that they had not received invitations. The New York Times had applied for and not received an invitation, a spokesperson said in an email.

“We are disappointed that we were denied access to President Xi’s press conference. The BBC will continue to report fairly and objectively on the stories of China,” the BBC said in a statement.

The Guardian published a story saying it was among those organisations excluded.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang referred specific questions about the congress to the press center but said foreign reporters were welcome to cover the gathering.

“We handle foreign reporter applications according to rules and regulations,” he told reporters.

An official at the press center told Reuters that it had organized many events that foreign media could and did attend. The Standing Committee unveiling venue had limited space and so there was no guarantee all foreign media who applied could attend, the official said.

“We hope that foreign media can really pay attention to China’s development and objectively and fairly report on China and the Communist Party,” said the official, who asked not be named.

There were more than 3,000 reporters covering the congress, according to state media, and the leadership announcement was held in a side room at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, not in the cavernous main auditorium.

Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; Editing by Tony Munroe, Nick Macfie and Alister Doyle