Journalists’ group ‘dismayed’ by treatment at Beijing Winter Olympics

<span>Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA</span>
Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China says reporters tailed and manhandled by security despite assurances from Games officials

Reporting conditions for journalists covering the Beijing Winter Olympics fell short of international standards despite assurances from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCCC) of China has said.

The club said it was “dismayed” that at a time when global attention was trained on China more than ever the government and Olympic officials still failed to uphold their own rules on accredited foreign media. Instead “government interference occurred regularly during the Games”, both inside and outside venues, when journalists tried to interview athletes and local residents.

The FCCC also highlighted significant online trolling and abuse of journalists who had covered Olympic events and related stories. “In some cases these attacks were fuelled by Chinese state media accounts and Chinese diplomats,” it said, describing an observed aspect of state-backed online harassment and propaganda campaigns.

The FCCC statement listed a number of claims of intimidation, obstruction and harassment, including some that the IOC – widely criticised for granting the Games to a government accused of crimes against humanity – had dismissed as “isolated incidents”.

“After an Olympic ski event, a foreign reporter was prevented by a Beijing Olympic official from interviewing a Hong Kong athlete in the Games’ mixed zone, a space supposedly governed by international Olympic rules,” the statement said. “Most visibly, a reporter with the Dutch national broadcaster NOS was hauled off camera during a live TV broadcast by plainclothes security men, despite the fact that he had been standing in a spot police directed him to only minutes earlier.”

During the opening ceremony, the NOS’s Sjoerd den Daas was reporting live from outside the Olympic “bubble” in Beijing when he was grabbed and dragged away by security officials.

“Unfortunately, this is increasingly the daily reality for journalists in China,” the Dutch outlet later tweeted, adding that Den Daas “is fine and could fortunately finish his story a few minutes later”.

The IOC said it was an “isolated” event that would not affect foreign media reporting at the Games, but the FCCC said foreign reporters were frequently tailed or manhandled by security or officials while trying to report from outside Games venues.

A France 24 correspondent said they were assigned a “guide” while reporting from outside the bubble, who reported back if their interviews “deviated” from the official narrative.

The FCCC said it was disappointed that China had tightened conditions for the press, “contrary to the Olympic spirit”.

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It added: “The FCCC urges the Chinese authorities to uphold their own stated rules on accredited foreign press in China: namely, to allow journalists to book and conduct their own interviews without threat of state interference and to report freely in public areas. Unfortunately, neither rule was enforced at a time when global attention was trained on China more than ever.”

Press freedom in China has been worsening in recent years, with increasing reports of harassment – online and in person – as well as government-led difficulties. Ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the FCCC had accused officials of “continuously stymying” media attempts to cover the preparations and lead up.

The Beijing organising committee denied the accusations and said it had “never recognised” the FCCC, but said it “guaranteed the freedom of reporting” by international media on the Games in accordance with “relevant Chinese policies”. The promise was on the proviso journalists abided by “relevant Chinese laws, regulations and anti-epidemic policies”.