China extends Olympic concessions for foreign media
China late Friday announced new regulations for foreign journalists that make permanent more liberal provisions introduced for the Beijing Olympics, dpa reported.
The main change from the pre-Olympic regulations was that foreign journalists no longer need permission from local governments before interviewing Chinese citizens and organizations, the foreign ministry said.
China had introduced temporary Olympic rules from January 2007 until Friday, which in principle allowed foreign journalists to talk to anyone who agreed to an interview, in all areas except for the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The new rules make that temporary arrangement permanent, the ministry said.
State media said the permanent regulations were linked to China's "basic policy of opening up".
The regulations, published on the ministry's website, said they were designed to "protect according to the law the legitimate rights and interests" of foreign media and "provide convenience for them to conduct journalistic activities in accordance with the law".
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China welcomed the announcement of the regulations.
"If properly implemented, we believe this will mark a step forward in the opening of China's media environment," the group said.
But it urged the government to ensure that police and local officials "respect the spirit as well as the letter of the new rules" and avoid "putting more pressure on local sources".
US-based Human Rights Watch and other rights groups said earlier that strictly controlled Chinese journalists had gained nothing from the temporary rules and were subject to even tighter controls in the run up to the Olympics.
Police and officials also tried to dissuade some Chinese citizens from talking to foreign media or urged them to avoid sensitive topics.
The foreign ministry called a press conference to announce the extension just 15 minutes before the temporary regulations were scheduled to expire at midnight on Friday.
It was not known why the government of China's ruling Communist Party waited until the last minute to announce the extension.
Some analysts had speculated earlier that there were differences of opinion over access for foreign media between relatively liberal officials in the foreign ministry and more conservative ones in the public security ministry.