The reporting policy that China loosened ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was tightened up this past week with new restrictions placed on foreign journalists working in the communist nation.
Under the new rules, journalists from other countries must now have prior government permission to interview anyone in a public area in China. Previously, rules announced in 2008 allowed reporters to interview any Chinese citizen who agreed to be interviewed.
Furthermore, authorities are now reportedly threatening to expel foreign journalists from the country if they report from the Beijing city center without applying for permission at least three days ahead.
“This attitude of the China’s authorities towards non-mainland journalists is a backward step since the reforms enacted ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games,” remarked Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), after hearing of the new restrictions.
“There is absolutely no regulation that can supersede Article 35 of China’s Constitution, which enshrines the rights of citizens to a free press,” he added.
Notably, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu has insisted that regulations on foreign reporters' interviews had not changed, but that local governments could implement "specific operating details" of the rules to ensure an "unhindered interview environment."
“The truth of the issue is that some people are afraid of a lack of chaos, and want to cause trouble in China,” she said in accusing journalists of trying to disrupt public order.
“If the person has this kind of intention, then no law can protect them," she added at the government's regular press briefing.
The new restrictions were announced following several incidences involving foreign journalists and local authorities.
Last Sunday, BBC journalist Damian Grammaticas was reportedly assaulted by Chinese police in Beijing.
And this past Sunday, at least seventeen foreign reporters in China were reportedly arrested and detained after they showed up to a site in Shanghai where a protest was planned.
Staff from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and numerous other overseas news organizations had been called in for videotaped meetings with Beijing police last week and told that reporters trying to film or interview near proposed demonstration spots in Beijing or Shanghai that weekend would be punished.
In the wake of the demonstrations breaking out in the Middle East, mysterious online calls for Chinese rallies have been made for a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” – though none so far have been answered by much of anyone beside the foreign press.
On Saturday, Zhao Qizheng, spokesman for China's top advisory body, said an unrest in China similar to those in the Middle East is "preposterous and unrealistic."
There would not be such a situation in China, added Zhao, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
Though Zhao acknowledged to a group of foreign journalists last month that China has its fair share of problems, he said the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government were trying to resolve them.
On Thursday, China stressed the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations like Libya, which have fallen into a state of crisis.
“All Middle Eastern nations are China’s friends,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.
“China has always developed its friendly and cooperative ties with these nations based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit," she added, according to Xinhua.