Thursday, June 5, 2008

Foreign Journalists Encountering Censorship While Covering the Sichuan Earthquake

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has compiled the following examples of "reporting interference" by the Chinese authorities on visiting reporters covering the Sichuan earthquake.

Incidentally, “reporting interference” includes violence, destruction of journalistic materials, detention, harassment of sources and staff, interception of communications, denial of access to public areas, being questioned in an intimidating manner by authorities, being reprimanded officially, being followed, and being subjected to other obstacles not in keeping with international practice.

Here we go:

DUJIANGYAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE: POLICE BAR JOURNALISTS FROM ENTERING QUAKE PROTEST CITY, THREATEN DRIVER

June 4 — Police prevented two Dutch correspondents from entering Dujiangyan on June 4, and later barred them from a collapsed middle school where parents had been congregating since the earthquake. The reporters for Elsevier and Radio Netherlands were turned back at a police checkpoint leading into Dujiangyan. Police told the reporters they couldn't enter the city because “the situation was very fierce.” Police then told the journalists' driver if he persisted in trying to enter Dujiangyan they would record his license number and car details and it would "cause problems" for him. The journalists proceeded to enter the city via a back road, but were unable to visit the grounds of the Juyuan middle school due to a police barricade. An official from the local Foreign Affairs Office approached the journalists and told them reports of foreign journalists being detained a day earlier were "just false rumors," and said the authorities knew nothing of attempts by parents to petition at the courthouse.

DUJIANGYAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE: POLICE MANHANDLE, DETAIN REPORTERS COVERING LAWSUIT BY PARENTS OF QUAKE VICTIMS

June 3 — Police detained a reporter and photographer from Kyodo News as they were covering a story on parents who were trying to file a lawsuit over the deaths of students at a collapsed school. About ten policemen surrounded the photographer, grabbed him by his arms, and took him into a courthouse. The parents gathered in front of the building protested, and asked the officers why they were detaining a foreign journalist. Several minutes later authorities pulled the reporter away from the crowd and took him into the courthouse. A local government official told journalists they were not under arrest, but were being taken inside the courthouse for their own safety. The two were allowed to leave about an hour later. Chinese authorities prevented the more than 150 parents from filing a lawsuit over the deaths of students at a school that collapsed in the May 12 earthquake, allegedly due to shoddy construction.

DUJIANGYAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE: POLICE GRAB, DETAIN REPORTERS, WARN THEM NOT TO COVER PROTESTS BY QUAKE VICTIM PARENTS

June 3 — Police detained a reporter and photographer from Associated Press and told them not to cover protests by parents who lost children in the May 12 earthquake. Reporter Cara Anna and photographer Ng Han Guan arrived around 9:30 a.m. at the courthouse in Dujiangyan, where parents were protesting shoddy school construction. Police grabbed their arms and pulled them up the stairs of the courthouse. They were taken to the lobby to wait for officials from the local government's Foreign Affairs Office. The official arrived and lectured the journalists not to cover such protests. The official said people were bound to have different opinions following the quake but the reporters should pay no attention to such things. The journalists were released about half an hour later.

DUJIANGYAN, SICHUAN PROVINCE: POLICE “MANHANDLE” REPORTER, ASSISTANT AWAY FROM GOVERNMENT MEETING WITH PARENTS

June 2 – Police forcibly removed a Christian Science Monitor correspondent and his Chinese assistant from covering a meeting between local officials and angry bereaved parents of children who died in the Juyuan middle school. Several riot police, one regular police officer and a man in plain clothes pushed and shoved correspondent Peter Ford and his assistant out of the meeting as it was getting started, telling them it was a “special moment” and they had to leave for their own safety. The reporting team snuck back in 20 minutes later. After another 20 minutes, police spotted Ford and told him, “This area is under police control, you must leave immediately.” He and his assistant left the gathering.

SICHUAN PROVINCE: MILITARY DELETE PHOTOS, CONFISCATE VIDEO

May 15 — Jonathan Watts of Britain's Guardian newspaper said military personnel working in Niufei Village, Pingwu County,told his reporting team they were not allowed to video the soldiers en route to a school buried in a landslide. "I told them they should be proud of what they are doing, and they should let the people know," Watts said. "But they confiscated a video tape, deleted some photographs, and told us to leave." In Mianyang the next day, Watts was obstructed by police from entering a refugee camp, although he said domestic journalists appeared to have unfettered access. Two days later, he was held up at a checkpoint near Zipingpu dam by a soldier who claimed he was under orders to prevent foreigners from entering "because spies had infiltrated the area." On other occasions Watts said he received unprecedented cooperation from security personnel, including rides in trucks and on speedboats. "It was a mixture. In a single day you could experience refreshing openness and a feeling of shared humanity. Then, straight after, the same old frustrating restrictions and suspicion of foreigners that was normal in the past," he said. "Overall, my encounters with police and troops were more positive than at any time before. But it seemed to depend on the individual rather than be the result of any change of policy."

SICHUAN PROVINCE: CORRESPONDENTS HELD AT ROADBLOCK

May 14 — Sami Sillanpaa, correspondent for the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, said two days after the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan a half dozen foreign correspondents were barred at a roadblock from entering the town of Beichuan near the epicenter. While the foreign journalists were held up, Chinese journalists got on a minibus and were allowed through. Sillanpaa said in the early days after the quake he was stopped at about five roadblocks outside Dujiangyan, Mianyang and elsewhere. Twice policemen told him foreign correspondents need to get permission from the local government's foreign affairs office to pass through. On another occasion authorities interfered with his interviews in a hospital in Deyang town, saying he could spread viruses. Nearby, a Chinese journalist filmed unimpeded.

SICHUAN PROVINCE: TV REPORTER ROUGHED UP AND DETAINED
May 14 — Four policemen pushed around and detained for 90 minutes a Finnish TV reporter who was on her way to Beichuan near the epicenter of the Sichuan earthquake. Katri Makkonen of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE said police harassed her after local Foreign Affairs officers told her they had an order not to allow foreign correspondents to enter the hard-hit city. "My cameraman managed to get in. While I was being detained, he was helping people buried in the rubble, without many rescuers in sight," Makkonen said. She was later allowed to enter the city. Despite the detention, Makkonen was generally "very very surprised by the good way we were treated. At one roadblock I told the military I was a journalist, and he said 'welcome' and let us in."

SICHUAN PROVINCE: POLICE CONFISCATE PRESS CARDS, TRY TO FORCIBLY CONFISCATE TAPES OF QUAKE DISASTER

May 13 — Police confiscated press cards from a TV team in Juyuan and tried to forcibly seize video the team took of the earthquake disaster area. At 3:00 a.m., 12 hours after the earthquake struck, a police officer who refused to identify himself confiscated reporters' press cards issued by the Chinese government. "They surrounded us and started pulling us — at our clothes, our hands and arms, at my bag, at our camera — we felt physically threatened and did not feel safe," said a reporter. The team alerted the Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry was able to locate the teams press cards and return them within a few days.

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