Chinese journalists at Olympics told to avoid sensitive issues

August 12th, 2008 - 9:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 12 (DPA) Chinese journalists reporting on the Olympic Games have been ordered to avoid sensitive issues, including Tibetan or Falungong protests, journalists said Tuesday. “We were advised that we shouldn’t publish anything that harms national security, including pictures of protests by Tibetan or Falungong protesters,” said one journalist for a Beijing newspaper, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Another journalist told DPA that pressure on Chinese journalists has been high.

“We have boundaries. Everybody is nervous now,” said the journalist.

Several journalists said that any time there is a major event it was common for China’s Propaganda Bureau to issue notices to the various media agencies on how to cover the events.

“In these big events, there are always guidelines on what you can do, what you cannot do. Usually these guidelines are given only to managers and reporters do not see them,” said a Beijing-based reporter.

The guidelines can be as detailed as a reminder recently to mention officials in the right order, based on their rankings, with the most senior mentioned first, he said.

For the Olympics, reporters have also been told to treat large countries and small countries with equal emphasis in their reports, another reporter said.

The South China Morning Post Tuesday reported that a 21-point set of regulations have been issued by the propaganda bureau to Chinese media companies telling them to avoid reporting about sensitive topics including the dispute over blocked overseas websites, the private lives of state leaders, religious services provided in the Olympic Village, food safety and protests in three parks set aside as protest zones.

The Hong Kong-based newspaper said the directive also specifies Chinese press cannot report about any emergency that happens in competitions without permission from the propaganda authorities.

None of the mainland Chinese media reported about a protest by two pro-Tibet Britons who scaled light posts and unfurled banners outside the National Stadium a day before the opening ceremony was held there.

And Chinese media only provided short reports about the stabbing murder by a Chinese man of US visitor Todd Bachmann, father of one of the coaches of the US volleyball team, outside the Drum Tower in Beijing last week. The version they reported was the version provided by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

There have also been reports that Chinese reporters had to hand in their notepads after the issue was talked about at a volleyball news conference.

Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia Pacific desk for Reporters Without Borders, told DPA that two or three journalists have also told him a 21-point directive had been issued.

He said it is similar to regulations released late last year advising reporters on how to cover the Olympics.

The regulations told reporters to avoid negative stories such as the pollution problem.

“This goes against their commitment that there will be more freedom during the Olympics for international media and Chinese media,” Brossel said.

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