Human Rights Watch guides Beijing reporters

Human Rights Watch has published a pocket guide for reporters planning to travel to China to cover the Beijing Olympics. Produced with the support of the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Reporters’ Guide to Covering the Beijing Olympics addresses how to report in a largely closed country, with particular attention to the hazards facing Chinese sources and news assistants.

An estimated 25,000 journalists will cover the Beijing Games. This guide spells out both their rights – in particular under the Chinese government’s temporary regulations for foreign journalists – and the risks they or their Chinese contacts may face. The Reporters’ Guide is also downloadable online at no cost by clicking here, and will also soon be available in French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

“Many of the journalists heading to Beijing are veteran sports and Olympics reporters, but the environment in China poses unique challenges,” said Minky Worden, media director at Human Rights Watch and editor of China’s Great Leap, a new collection of essays on China and the Olympics.

“Journalists will encounter extensive government surveillance, internet censorship, and serious risks to Chinese fixers and sources.”

The promise of human rights improvements was a central plank of Beijing’s successful bid to host the 2008 Olympics, after its failure to win the 2000 Summer Games. The Chinese government pledged full press freedom to journalists planning to cover the Games. “We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China,” said Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, in 2001.

Yet China remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists, censors the internet and retaliates against Chinese citizens thought to be sources for stories critical of the government.

Designed as a “survival guide” for reporters new to China, the Human Rights Watch handbook covers:

· Risks and Rights: an overview of both the risks faced by reporters and their rights, in particular under the temporary regulations for foreign journalists;

· Outside the Arena: important but sensitive human rights topics and the Chinese government’s legal tools to prevent and punish such coverage;

· Security, Surveillance and Safety: tips on countering censorship, and dealing with the police in problematic situations;

· Protecting Your Chinese Contacts: how not to endanger sources and news assistants;

· The Great Firewall: internet censorship and tips to counter it; and,

· Practical Information: an appendix listing useful numbers and websites as well as a bilingual (English/Chinese) version of the temporary regulations (which can be shown, for example, to officials questioning a reporter in the field).

Human Rights Watch is releasing the Reporters’ Guide six months after the detention of human rights advocate Hu Jia, who was sentenced on April 3 to three and a half years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power”. The charges were based on five articles Hu wrote and two interviews he gave to foreign media, in part on human rights abuses in China in the context of the Beijing Games.

“We hope that reporters headed to Beijing will do their best to tell the complex story of life in China today, including the important human stories beyond the sports arenas,” said Worden. “The key to covering China effectively without jeopardizing your staff, your sources, and yourself, is to be prepared and informed. We hope this guide will help.”

International Federation of Journalists’ online Beijing helpline: click here

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