Harassment SOP in China

This should be a surprise to no one that government leaders in China have no love for free and unfettered media despite all the pronouncements from Beijing about how things are better for foreign reporters in China.
As far as it goes, that statement is true. Foreign reporters are able to travel to most areas of the country without having to obtain special permission. (Tibet and Urumqi are definitely on the “need permission to get anywhere near the place” list.) And this is a major step forward.
However, what government officials — local and national — are now finding is that people in once obscure places are using their mobile phones to complain about health and living conditions. Reporters go out to investigate those complaints.
And suddenly the local officials are knee-deep in issues from pollution to corruption — often the two go hand in hand — and incompetence.
None of these are good for Communist party leaders hoping to move up the ranks. So rather than own up to the problem and make corrections, the local party hacks harass the journalists.
A recent story in the New York Times about 1,300 children in a rural province of China suffering from massive lead poisoning. Reporters going in to follow up on the story were harassed and run out of town. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in China web site reports the problem:
Posted August 21, 2009
Shaanxi: Journalists working on lead poisoning story followed, harassed

An AP photographer, reporter, and APTN camera crew were followed by local government officials in Fengxiang county, Shaanxi province, who attempted to block or disrupt interviews with parents of children hospitalized for lead poisoning on Aug. 19.

A cameraman was asked for his press card, which a policeman photographed, and the reporters were directed to a hospital administrative office where they were told a spokesman would be made available to answer their questions. When none appeared, they left and briefly gained access to a ward where children were  being treated, before being asked to leave. The officials withdrew after reporters crossed the county line.

Throughout the day, the journalists were tailed, and the officials would follow on foot, leaning in over their shoulders while they interviewed people.

The same officials visited the APTN crew at their hotel the previous night, asking them to leave, and saying that matters were being taken care of and foreign reporters had no business reporting about it.

None of this is surprising.

And China is not the only place where this happens.

The worst part about a lot of this is that this so-called “soft harassment” — let’s face it, just a few years ago the journalists would have been arrested rather than just followed — is the danger to sources of stories. The government officials know they can go after Chinese subjects more easily than the reporters. Besides the reporters will soon leave. The sources have to stay.

This issue of protection of sources in societies such as China and Iran is a growing concern and will be discussed later.

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Filed under China, Freedom of access, Harassment

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