Saturday, November 8, 2008

Two-Tiered System

Today is Journalists' Day in China.

And the media here makes a point of publicising the fact which is quite ironic.

What are they really recognising? That they don't give domestic reporters the freedom to ask questions and make the government more accountable?

A few weeks ago the Chinese government made a big deal about extending its easing of restrictions for foreign media.

Just before 11pm on a Friday, the Foreign Ministry invited foreign journalists to a press conference. As hardly anything barring natural disasters like earthquakes is breaking news, this sounded important.

So the foreign media rushed down to the ministry's briefing hall and 15 minutes before midnight, spokesman Liu Jianchao announced that the easing of restrictions for foreign media in China would be extended beyond the deadline that would have ended at 12 midnight.

"This is not only a big step forward for China in opening up to the outside world," Liu said, waving a printout of the regulations. "It's also a big step for further facilitating reporting by foreign journalists."

While these regulations theoretically allow foreign reporters to go almost wherever they want (barring places like Tibet and military installations), they still get hassles from small towns or less populated areas where officials aren't apparently keeping up with the latest updates from the central government.

And while some journalists tell me that this regulation has made life much easier in general, they still get the occasional roughing up or tailing from police.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China recorded more than 180 cases of interference, including detaining journalists and physical assaults.

And these are only the foreign journalists -- these regulations don't apply to domestic reporters at all.

Article 35 of China's constitution guarantees press freedom and yet its own reporters are detained or imprisoned for their work.

In a recent ranking of press freedom, Reporters Without Borders ranked China 167th, behind Iran.

So why celebrate Journalists' Day when they're not even allowed to do their jobs properly?

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