The international media watchgroup Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has on May 25, 2007 expressed concern at the Chinese Government’s interrogation of two China-based Western journalists who reported on their visits to Tibet.
In a press statement, RSF said, “Harald Maass, China correspondent of the German daily Franfurter Rundschau, and Tim Johnson, the China correspondent of the US newspaper chain McClatchy, were summoned separately on 15 May by Zhang Lizhong, a division director at the foreign ministry’s information department, for questioning about their trip to Tibet in April.” The journalists were told that their reports from Tibet were ‘mistake,’ ‘false,’ and ‘unacceptable.’
In an article entitled, Prohibited Tibet, Harald Maass wrote on April 20, 2007, about the difficulties of reporting from Tibet. He wrote, “As we leave our hotel in the old town in the morning, a man in a red jacket follows us. We turn into side-streets, change direction. A second, and then a third man start following us. After a couple of minutes we realise we are surrounded by secret police. The next day the surveillance becomes closer still. We think about taking the bus to Shigatse. Scarcely have we boarded a taxi when our car is stopped by a police check.” The driver is cross examined. At the bus station,an employee tells us, “You may not travel to Shigatse by bus. We will not be selling you any tickets.”
In his blog dated May 20, 2007, Tim Johnson had this to say about his encounter with the Chinese officials following his trip to Tibet.
“Now, those who have been following this blog know that I encountered serious problems in Tibet, ultimately ending in a call into the Foreign Ministry for a formal reproach. I want to make clear that the purpose of my trip was to do the stories above. I asked for formal permission. I was not granted it. China is a sovereign nation and can block anyone it wants from going anywhere it deems inappropriate. That said, why do you think China would not want a reporter going to do the stories I did, cited above, from Mount Everest?”
RSF has asked the Chinese Government to clarify on how Tibet fits into the new rules for journalists that have been announced in connection with the Olympic Games scheduled in Beijing for 2008.
Following is the full text of the RSF statement.
Two foreign reporters summoned and warned about Tibet stories
25 May 2007
Beijing games organiser asked to clarify Tibet’s status in new rules for foreign journalists.
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the action of the Chinese foreign ministry in summoning and warning two western journalists about their reporting from Tibet last month, and it called on Beijing Olympic Games organiser Liu Qi to clarify the status of Tibet in the new rules for foreign journalists.
“The Beijing games organising committee has just published a very detailed report about all the benefits that foreign journalists will enjoy, so it is shocking to see foreign correspondents being harassed while out reporting and then lectured to when they write stories that displease the authorities,” the press freedom organisation said.
“We urge Liu Qi, the head of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games, to come out publicly in favour of journalists being allowed to travel to Tibet and Xinjiang without hindrance and for this sort of harassment to stop,” Reporters Without Borders added.
In his introduction to a “Guide to Services for Foreign Journalists during the Beijing Olympic Games” that was published on 9 May, Liu writes, “The freedom of foreign journalists in their news coverage will also be ensured.” He also says: “In accordance with the regulations, foreign journalists with a valid visa or certificate may travel to places open to foreigners designated by the Chinese government.”
Reporters Without Borders regrets that the authorities haveconfirmed in this guide that the new regulations will cease to apply in October, once the Beijing games are over.
Harald Maass, China correspondent of the German daily Franfurter Rundschau, and Tim Johnson, the China correspondent of the US newspaper chain McClatchy, were summoned separately on 15 May by Zhang Lizhong, a division director at the foreign ministry’s information department, for questioning about their trip to Tibet in April.
Zhang warned Maass that his reporting from Tibet was a “mistake” and that this was a serious matter. Accusing Mass of distorting the facts and violating journalistic standards, he asked him to “correct his mistakes.”
Maass told Reporters Without Borders this was the first in his nine years in China that he was criticized by the Foreign Ministry for his reporting.
Zhang also told Maass that he had the right to travel to Tibet under the new rules for the foreign press, but he still needed to obtain an authorisation from the representatives of the ministry (Weiban) in Lhasa.
Zhang told Johnson that parts of his articles were “false” and”unacceptable.” And according to Johnson, Zhang said the newregulations do not apply to reporting from Tibet.
When Maass and Johnson arrived in Lhasa, they found themselves being followed and harassed by Chinese plain-clothes policemen. Tibetans they talked to were fined. And the police prevented Maass from travelling to the city of Shigatse.