Friday, October 09, 2009

Obsequiousness at China's media summit

Satoshi Ishikawa, head of Japan's Kyodo news agency, must have sat uncomfortably in the Great Hall of the People on Friday as he listened to Chinese president Hu Jintao claim China would continue to respect foreign news organisations. President Hu's announcement came less than a month after several Japanese reporters were kicked and punched in their Beijing hotel room by security officials for filming National Day parade rehearsals. No public apology has been made following the assault and damage to equipment including two laptops belonging to the Kyodo news agency. Reporters often complain they are regularly detained and sometimes have been assaulted by both uniformed and plain-clothed police. Even during the Olympics when China said it would open up to the world's media, an ITN journalist was arrested and a photographer was assaulted by police.

Journalists attempting to cover the earthquake in Sichuan province and the aftermath of riots in Xinjiang have been attacked, arrested or had their equipment smashed. The CPJ [the Committee to Protect Journalists] has logged countless such incidents. Their website was inaccessible within China on Friday. On 4th September several journalists from Hong Kong were tackled by armed police in Urumqi in Xinjiang province. Running to escape tear gas fired into the crowd, they were beaten and held face down on the ground for 15 to 20 minutes. The reporters were taken to a police station where they were detained for several hours but similar incidents almost all involving Hong Kong journalists, continued for several days.

Last year a reporter and photographer from two Japanese news organizations were detained and beaten by paramilitary police as they were covering an attack on police in northwest China's Xinjiang. Masami Kawakita, a photographer of the Chunichi Shimbun newspaper's Tokyo headquarters, and Shinji Katsuta, a reporter of Nippon Television Network Corp.'s China General Bureau, both suffered light injuries.

Following the attack on employees working for Kyodo news this year, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China strongly condemned the assault and called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify, in writing, any rules it had regarding coverage of the National Day events. No such clarification was forthcoming.

In today's address president Hu emphasised the important role the media had in informing the world about China. "We will continue to make government affairs public, enhance information distribution, safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of foreign news organizations and reporters, and facilitate foreign media coverage of China in accordance with China's laws and regulations," Hu told the World Media Summit at the Great Hall of the People.

"All media organizations should be dedicated to the lofty cause of pushing forward peace and development," Hu said. So long as the media only reports what China wants reporting. Xinhua, the state run news organisation, made no mention of problems encountered by foreign media organisations. Even Kyodo's Satoshi Ishikawa shyed away from controversy when addressing the World Media Summit.

"We believe the media have a social responsibility to promote world peace by sharing news and information about everyday events and by furthering mutual understanding in a way that goes beyond the limits of countries and regions," Ishikawa said. Such obsequiousness from so many sycophantic media organisations is unlikely to effect any change for the lowly reporter, cameraman  or photographer whose job it is to gather the news. Harsher words need to be aired to make a difference on the ground.

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