July 22, 2008 / 8:54 AM / 11 years ago

China urges officials to heed press freedom vows

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged local governments on Tuesday to abide by Olympics reporting rules that in theory allow foreign media unfettered access to the countryside, responding to complaints of harassment.

Last year, China unveiled reporting rules especially for the period through the Beijing Games that eased previous restrictions on foreign journalists’ ability to report outside major cities.

But in practice, journalists regularly face hassles from local officials, and foreign rights groups have criticized China for failing to live up to assurances that it will guarantee press freedom for the Games.

“We continue to urge relevant departments, including local governments, to implement and fulfill commitments made in the relevant regulations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news conference.

“As to harassment against foreign journalists, I can’t comment on this general complaint but on principle we will continue to follow the relevant rules regarding foreign journalists and the Olympics,” he said.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has expressed concerns that directives on media freedom are not being implemented by lower-level officials.

Foreign broadcasters have also complained that previously approved live broadcasts have been disrupted, but Liu said China was doing its best to grant requests.

“We must accommodate both the need for security and your need to report,” he said.

Rights holders — broadcasters who invest huge sums in purchasing rights to the Games — have expressed concerns that the level of security surrounding the event would prevent the importing and operation of satellite trucks in China.

No guarantees of Olympics press freedom have been extended to local media, who face tight restrictions, especially when reporting on subjects deemed sensitive to China’s Communist authorities.

Reporting by Lindsay Beck

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