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"Let's open door to dialogue," says IFJ, as safety fears cast shadow over media work

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

"Let's Open Door to Dialogue" Says IFJ as Safety Fears Cast Shadow over Media Work in China

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today ended a four-day official visit to China in a positive mood, welcoming the prospects for a new era of dialogue between Chinese and Western journalists. But after a series of high-level meetings the IFJ says concerns remain over the safety of journalists and media staff in the run up to the Olympics.

"It has been a sweet and sour experience," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "We are impressed by a new willingness to talk through our differences over press freedom and journalism, but the problems facing reporters on the ground cannot be ignored."

The IFJ met with Chinese state officials as well as leading media and the government-backed All China Journalists Association and talked to a number of foreign correspondents, some of whom have found themselves threatened in the wake of Chinese anger over foreign media coverage of disturbances in Tibet and the Olympic torch rally which has run into protests on its way through major world cities.

"In the last few weeks some journalists have been threatened and there has been an increase in violations of promises to let media work without interference," said White. "It's time to lower the temperature and start talking about making journalism safer and take reporters out of the political crossfire."

The IFJ is planning immediate follow-up work on actions to ensure journalists' safety during the Olympics and to establish a framework for joint actions designed to improve communications between Chinese journalists and their colleagues overseas.

"We have our eyes wide open in this process and we have raised concerns over journalists in jail," said White. "Our key aim is mutual understanding. We may not get agreement but talking issues through allows us to challenge the prejudice and hostility that puts journalists at risk."

The IFJ mission met with the Beijing Olympic Committee to discuss arrangements to protect journalists. Around 30,000 officially accredited and non-accredited journalists are expected in Beijing for the Games.

After the Games in August, the IFJ aims to work closely with China's journalists to ensure that promises of press freedom made before the games and new guidelines giving journalists the right to work freely will remain in place. The IFJ says there have been more than 200 violations of these guidelines since they were introduced last year.

"We recognise and welcome steps taken to allow journalists to work freely, but this must not be a one-off Olympics gesture. China must deliver on its promises and open the door to a durable process of dialogue and co-operation among journalists," said White. "Change is inevitable and journalism can play a vital part in confronting ignorance, misconceptions and hostility along the way."

The members of the mission were: Aidan White, Gabriel Baglo (IFJ Africa Director, Senegal); Mogens Blicher Bjerregård (President, Danish Union of Journalists); Arne Konig (Swedish Journalists Federation and Chair of the European Federation of Journalists); Ulrike Maercks-Franzen (Deutsche Journalisten Union-Verdi, Germany); Michael Klehm (Deutscher Journalisten Verband, Germany); Nikos Megrelis (IFJ Executive Committee, JUADN, Greece); Christopher Warren (Federal Secretary, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australia); Don Gasper (Hong Kong Journalists Association).

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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