China announced today that foreign journalists need advance permission to report from certain parts of Beijing—including Wangfujing (shown in the screenshot above) and other of the capital’s main shopping districts–and that they are not allowed to do so from a specific location, People’s Square, in Shanghai. On Sunday, journalists and photographers from news organizations including the BBC, Bloomberg News and the New York Times were harassed and assaulted by plainclothes security officers at the site of ‘Jasmine Revolution‘ protests announced anonymously on the Internet. In speaking about the heightened restrictions on the media, Chinese officials appeared to blame foreign journalists.
Bloomberg News says that its cameraman was kicked and seriously beaten in the presence of uniformed officers on Sunday. A BBC correspondent says that he and a colleague were ‘roughed up’ and thrown into a van, says the Guardian. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China also reports that five news organizations had had materials or equipment confiscated, while nine journalists reported being detained for as long as four hours.
According to today’s New York Times:
On Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman defended the new restrictions and the behavior of the police, suggesting that the authorities were simply trying to maintain order. “The police provided reasonable guidance, and the journalists should understand and cooperate,” the spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said at a regular news conference. “If both sides take this attitude, we can minimize the occurrence of such incidents.”
The new limitations on reporters even in the absence of demonstrations highlight the government’s anxiety over the possible spread of unrest that has toppled authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia. Since anonymous calls for protests went out two weeks ago on an American Web site, state security forces have also placed scores of dissidents and rights advocates under surveillance and tightened censorship to prevent word of the “jasmine” rallies from spreading on the Internet or by means of microblogs.
Jiang also said, in words further seeking to put the blame on the foreign journalists:
“Many media organisations haven’t encountered any trouble while reporting in China for many years. Why do some journalists always run into trouble? I find it strange. The journalists should really respect the laws and regulations.”
Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, China had loosened its restrictions on journalists reporting in the country, except for in Tibet. But as the Guardian notes, ‘in practice authorities have closed areas to the media when they consider them sensitive,’ including Tibetan areas in Sichuan where unrest occurred in March 2008.
American and European diplomats have condemned the assaults on journalists and the new restrictions on media reporting. Chinese news media are not allowed to discuss the rallies.
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