CNN Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz delivered the Keynote Speech for the FOCAP Teodoro Benigno Memorial Lecture Series in Makati, Philippines. He talked about his long experience in China as a student activist exiled from the Philippines, his subsequent years as a journalist, and covering China today:
Thanks in part to the Olympics, there have been signs of improvement in the reporting environment. In January 2007 China revised the rules and issued a set of temporary Olympic regulations which stipulate that foreign journalists no longer need to get advance permission from local authorities for every interview and visit in and outside Beijing. We kept this “little white book” like shield and a sword to defend ourselves from the “hand in front of the camera.” Whenever there is a “misunderstanding” with the police and officials, we cite these new rules and remind them that they were approved by no less than Premier Wen Jiabao.
But even that doesn’t always work. In the first year after the Olympic regulations were introduced, the FCCC recorded more than 180 cases of interference, including detentions of journalists and harassment of sources. In some cases, problems were resolved after our Foreign Ministry handlers in Beijing interceded by phone. Many times, however, local officials and police simply ignored the new regulations. There is nothing unusual about this. In China, such journo-phobia comes with the territory. Still, our biggest concern remains ensuring the safety and well being of our Chinese sources and Chinese assistants, who are more vulnerable to various forms of official harassments and intimidation.
Not all are dark. China is a great story to cover. One of the best parts of the job is the opportunity to travel around this vast, diverse and fast-changing nation. We also enjoy the chance to meet and interview interesting people and newsmakers. Because the country is so large and it is still so unusual to get access to senior officials – let alone exclusive interviews with the Chinese president and premier—we seek to China bottom-up, rather than top-down. This requires a lot of leg-work and long work days but this also makes it far more interesting.