The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has revealed a three-fold year-on-year increase in the number of instances where its members have reported the harassment of sources they have interviewed.

In a position paper released on Friday and described to Crikey by a former board member as the strongest the FCCC has ever issued, the foreign correspondent’s body says it fears China is rapidly eroding the progress it made in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics, when many restrictions on foreign press were relaxed for the first time.

Before the Olympics, foreign journalists were not allowed to travel freely in China, required instead to sick to the city they were officially assigned. However, new reporting regulations that took effect in October 2008 gave such journalists the ability to travel anywhere except Tibet, and to interview anyone willing to be interviewed.

But these rules have not been enforced, the FCCC says, “and following the Olympics the situation has steadily deteriorated”.

According to a survey of the FCCC’s 243 correspondents, 80% felt conditions had worsened or stayed the same as the year before. No one said the situation had improved.

In survey responses, two-thirds of working foreign journalists said they had experienced “interference, harassment or violence” while reporting on China. Reports of physical intimidation and violence were highest among TV journalists.

The harassment of sources was another common theme in the responses. In 2013, 23 instances of harassment of sources were reported in the FCCC survey. This year, there were 66 such reports.

Domestic Chinese journalists are similarly discouraged from in any way aiding foreign journalists.

“Journalists must never violate rules or provide any information about their professional conduct to other domestic or foreign media and websites. Nor can they act as any foreign media organisation’s ‘contributing reporter’, ‘contributing correspondent’, ‘contributing writer’, or columnist”, the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film & Television said in a July statement. The media regulator defined “professional conduct” as “any kind of information, source material or news product” acquired or made by “reporters, editors, broadcasters, anchors, as well as other newsroom staff who provide support to them”.

Journalists were also often warned personally against reporting on sensitive topics, while at least three media outlets (France 24, Germany’s ARD TV and Financial Times) reported that they had received official complaints from Chinese embassy officials after publishing contentious news stories on China.

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Peter Fray
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