How to play the Games

A new website has been launched to help journalists in China to cover the Olympic Games in Beijing, plus a helpline for offering emergency assistance and advice.

With more than 30,000 foreign journalists due to be in China during the Games when they start on 8 August, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and sports advocacy organisation Play the Game for Open Journalism have launched a website to help foreign media deal with the challenges of reporting in the country.

The site carries tips and advice on how to report in Beijing with contributions from local journalists, including covering sensitive topics in China and information on how to work with local assistants and protect sources. There is also an online discussion forum and the site invites journalists to post any advice they have.

A helpline offering emergency assistance and advice has also been set up by the IFJ for journalists who fall foul of the authorities.

Recognising that access to some websites could be blocked, the Committee to Protect Journalists has also published a handbook in association with Human Rights Watch called The Reporters’ Guide to Covering the Beijing Olympics, which can be downloaded for free.

Although the Chinese government promised that press freedom would be extended when it bid for the Games, the protests in Tibet, Olympic-torch demonstrations and the earthquake in May have put the assurance in question.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch found that press freedom appears to have worsened, with journalists experiencing obstruction from both central and local authorities.

The report, called China’s Forbidden Zones: Shutting the Media out of Tibet and other ‘Sensitive’ Stories, was based on interviews with more than 60 foreign correspondents who have been in the country since the authorities made promises to lift media restrictions.

‘The ongoing closure of Tibet to foreign journalists offers the starkest illustration of this point,’the report says, adding that in some cases, officials have attempted to extort positive coverage from journalists by threatening to withhold their accreditation to cover the Olympics. However, some journalists have had good experiences of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stepping in to help them, including a television journalist who was detained in Anhui in November last year but released after three hours.

There is also concern that ignorance of the new press regulations at lower levels of government means that they are not properly implemented.

However, despite the negative experiences of some journalists it has been suggested that the temporary rules, due to be in place until 17 October, could be extended. ‘If practice shows that the regulation will help the international community to know China better, then it is good policy in accordance with the country’s reforms,’state information office minister Cai Wu said in December.

‘This is an important commitment and one that the international community should encourage,’the report says. ‘However, simply making the temporary regulations permanent will not improve media freedom in China. The regulations must be respected and enforced, and must be extended to cover Chinese journalists as well.”

www.playthegameforopenjournalism.org

Human Rights Watch: china.hrw.org

hrw.org/reports/2008/china0708

IFJ helpline: + 32 475 76 13 92. Lines are open until 31 August

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