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Classified memo reveals government strategy for "managing" foreign journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has obtained a classified memo from Chinese sources that sets out the behaviour that government officials should adopt with foreign journalists before and during the Beijing Olympic Games. It tells them to display openness but also to try to control and influence the international media's coverage.

"While introducing more flexible rules for foreign journalists in January 2007, the Chinese authorities also established a nationwide policy for supervising and influencing the international media," Reporters Without Borders said. "Parts of this classified memo show there is a real concern to provide better information to foreign journalists, but it also reveals that the authorities never abandoned their intention to censor the news."

The press freedom organisation added: "While the Olympic flame is on its way to Beijing, we call on the International Olympic Committee to condemn any attempt by the Chinese authorities to obstruct the work of foreign journalists. The practices revealed by this document contradict the Chinese government's undertaking in 2001 to allow complete press freedom."

Dating from 2007 and entitled "Working recommendations for reinforcing management efficiency after the 'Rules for interviews by foreign journalists during the Beijing Olympic Games and their preparatory period' take effect," the memo obtained by Reporters Without Borders consists of instructions from the national authorities to those in charge of a province (including the local propaganda department and public security) on how to handle public relations and control press coverage.

The introduction explains that the aim of the recommendations is to respond to China's needs during the holding of the Olympic Games. The public relations plan has six parts: creating an interview strategy, improving the news release system, building a propaganda system for foreign media, creating positive opinion online, controlling opinion in a crisis and training officials in public relations.

The plan has positive elements such as training officials and holding news conferences for foreign journalists, but it also entails serious obstructions to the free flow of news and information.

The memo also confirms that the authorities have an active policy towards online information content. It asks the provincial officials to "reinforce the work of commenting on the Internet and increase the level of opinion orientation on the Internet."

In line with the crisis management law adopted in 2007, the provincial officials are also ordered to "influence coverage" on public emergencies and crises. And they are told in general that "positive propaganda must be reinforced" with a view to catching the attention of foreign journalists.

The government's aggressive campaigns against foreign journalists and its accusations of foreign media bias are also unacceptable at a time when tens of thousands of journalists are preparing to come to China in the next few months to cover the Olympic Games.

Read the Memo in Chinese and English:

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