China extends Olympic freedoms for foreign reporters


CHINA HAS extended rules introduced for the Olympic Games allowing foreign reporters to move and interview people freely throughout the country.

The move, which came at the 11th hour, means that foreign journalists will still be able to interview people without seeking official permission and will be permitted to travel in areas outside of the cities in which they are accredited.

The decision to extend the freedoms for foreign journalists is a sign of growing openness in China, but there were no breakthroughs on freedoms for domestic media.

"This is not only a big step forward for China in opening up to the outside world, for the foreign journalists it's also a big step," said foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.

The previous rules, introduced on January 1st last year as part of China's Olympic commitments to give foreign reporters more freedoms, were set to expire on Friday, two months after the end of the Beijing Games. However, reporters will still have to get permission from local authorities to gain access to the sensitive Himalayan region of Tibet.

China's ruling Communist Party seeks to keep strict control on the flow of information within the country.

The rights group Human Rights in China welcomed the decision, but urged Beijing to also extend these freedoms to domestic journalists. "The Chinese government should answer the calls of its own people," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

"It should respect its own constitution which guarantees press freedom, a right that many Chinese journalists and writers have paid - and are paying - a great price to exercise."

The Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents' Club of China welcomed the decision. The club recorded more than 335 cases of authorities interfering with reporters, such as detaining journalists and harassing their sources, since January last year.