China relaxes media rules for Olympics

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BEIJING -- China is loosening the rules that govern how foreign journalists work here as part of the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said at a news conference here Friday.

The new rules, titled "Regulations on Reporting Activities in China by Foreign Journalists During the Beijing Olympic Games and the Preparatory Period," take effect Jan. 1 and last through the end of the Olympics, the first ever to be hosted by China.

Abolished under the new rules are long-standing restrictions that called for foreign reporters to get permission from the nearest office of the foreign ministry before doing interviews.

"To interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent," reads Article 6 of the new regulations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the new rules will allow foreign reporters greater freedom of movement about China and also facilitate easier access to interview sources and broadcast equipment.

Beneficiaries will include the 606 foreign journalists now residing in China along with tens of thousands of reporters from overseas who are expected to be granted temporary accreditation to work in China in the run-up to the Olympics.

Beginning Jan. 1, television news organizations, including U.S. broadcast rights holder NBC, will be allowed to bring radio communications equipment, such as satellite trucks and video phones, into the country on a duty free basis provided the equipment is sent out of China after the Olympics.

Currently, non-Chinese broadcasters must pay to feed their signals through state-run China Central Television, which then has the ability to censor the images.

The communist government is considering a draft law that would fine news organizations, foreign or domestic, for reporting emergencies without first clearing their information with the government.

During Friday's news conference, many foreign journalists living in China expressed concerns that periodic interference in their reporting by local police and other authorities will continue unabated, particularly if they touched upon subjects not directly related to the Olympics.

"We are working with localities to introduce them to the new regulations," the foreign ministry spokesman said. "Local officials have responsibility to enforce these regulations."

Later on Friday, the Chinese government was expected to begin to convene meetings to explain the new rules to all levels of government, the foreign ministry spokesman said.

"As reform deepens in China, the convenience and service provided to foreign journalists in China are expanding," spokesman Liu said. "As time goes by, you will have more access."

However, the looser regulations covering foreign journalists will expire after the Olympics end on Oct. 17, 2008, and China will fall back to using the stricter regulations that currently require government permission to travel outside a few major cities.
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