Foreign Correspondents Club of China Demands Greater Transparency from Organizers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics 

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) released a statement on Tuesday criticizing the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their lack of transparency regarding Olympic-related reporting in China. The press group described numerous ways in which the foreign press has been “continuously stymied” in its attempts to report on the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games, drawing attention to the Chinese government’s hostile attitude towards reporters and foreshadowing the difficulties foreign correspondents will face when the games begin in February. Janet Paskin at Bloomberg summarized the main criticisms contained in the FCCC statement:

Foreign media staff have over the past year been excluded from news conferences, venue visits and other routine events that were open to domestic media, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said in a statement Tuesday. Journalists have been denied access for numerous reasons, including venue capacity, Covid-protocols and security concerns, the group said.

“There is still tremendous uncertainty over how and if foreign correspondents will be able to cover the Games,” the FCCC wrote in a statement. 

The behavior failed to uphold IOC charter provisions requiring the body to “ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world” as well as China’s own pledge to give media the freedom to report the games and their preparations, the group said. [Source]

An IOC spokesperson later stated that the IOC would address the FCCC’s concerns with the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee. The spokesperson added that the IOC’s integrity and compliance hotline, designed for journalists to report violations encountered during their coverage, and singled out by the FCCC for not working, was now fixed. The Chinese government offered a more adversarial response. In his press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin took issue with the FCCC’s statement and noted that China does not recognize the group nor believe it fully represents all of the foreign journalists working in China. But at the Guardian, Helen Davidson highlighted reporter testimonies supporting the FCCC’s criticism:

The FCCC provided several testimonies, including from a US journalist who said they were stopped and questioned by police after they tried to take photos with their phone of a venue, from a public road.

Another broadcaster said it was called by an organiser of an Olympic venue tour and shouted at over a report that mentioned human rights boycotts. “We haven’t been given access since,” the broadcaster said.

A European newspaper reporter who attempted to visit venues after BOCOG failed to grant access was stopped at the entrance to winter sports slopes in Chongli and Yanqing. “This lack of access means Chinese state media claims about the environmental sustainability of venues are impossible to verify,” the reporter said. [Source]

Press access will be further complicated by Covid-19 safety measures. China has some of the most stringent pandemic-related restrictions on movement, and many correspondents are worried that the Chinese government will abuse these safety restrictions to limit press coverage of the Olympics. Chinese authorities have already used the pandemic to disrupt reporting by forcing foreign journalists to take an unreasonable number of Covid-19 tests and threatening them arbitrarily with quarantine. Andrew Keh from the New York Times described China’s “closed-loop” bubble for the Olympics, which appears significantly stricter than that imposed during the Tokyo 2021 Olympics:

The Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in what organizers called a “closed-loop management system,” a bubblelike environment in which athletes, officials, broadcasters, journalists and a large Games work force will be forced to eat, sleep, work and compete, without leaving, from the day they arrive to the moment they depart.

[…] Members of the local news media and the venue work forces [for the 2021 Summer Olympics] in Tokyo, meanwhile, were allowed to commute to Olympic venues from their homes. And after a 14-day period of more harsh restrictions, all visitors to the Games were given the freedom to move about the city as they wished.

The so-called closed-loop management system planned in China, the I.O.C. said, would encompass “all Games-related areas, including arrival and departure, transport, accommodation, catering, competitions, and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.”

The I.O.C. statement suggested that no one inside the system would be allowed to venture out of it for any reason: “Within the closed loop, participants will be allowed to move only between Games-related venues for training, competitions and work. A dedicated Games transport system will be put in place.” [Source]

China is infamous for its treacherous reporting environment. Reporters Without Borders ranks China 177 out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. A past report by the FCCC revealed that 80 percent of correspondents had experienced “interference, harassment or violence” while reporting in China. Among the 47 journalists jailed in China in 2020, the highest number of any country, two are Australian citizens: Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei. That same year, at least 20 foreign foreign journalists were expelled from or otherwise forced to leave China. Conditions have not improved since then. In February, the Chinese government banned the BBC from broadcasting, inciting a “campaign of harassment” that resulted in  threats of violence directed at BBC reporters. During the July floods in Zhengzhou, in Henan Province, foreign correspondents from the Los Angeles Times, Deutsche Welle, and the Associated Press were harassed by angry mobs that impeded their investigations. A June 2021 survey conducted by ChinaFile showed that 40 percent of respondents, citing the increasingly repressive atmosphere, would not want to return to China after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. 

Iris Hsu with the Committee to Protect Journalists provided concrete examples of the Chinese government’s negative treatment of journalists in the period leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

  • Foreign journalists were harassed, threatened, and had to fend off interference by Chinese officials while trying to do their jobs. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China documented more than 230 cases of harassment, obstruction, and detention and at least 10 cases of death threats made against foreign journalists in China.
  • Six Hong Kong broadcasters were expelled from the Tibet Autonomous Region for covering anti-government demonstrations; at least 50 foreign journalists told the FCCC that they also faced obstruction from officials while trying to report in Tibet.
  • In just one example of repercussions for domestic reporting, Chinese freelance journalist Lü Gengsong was sentenced in 2008 to four years in prison on subversion charges for publishing articles about government corruption and organized crime. After his release, Lü was arrested again in 2014 and is currently serving an 11-year sentence in prison for writing on human rights issues. [Source]

Echoing 2008, the 2022 Beijing Olympics are mired in controversy over the Chinese government’s reported human rights abuses. Human rights groups have argued that the alleged genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the National Security Law crackdown on political and civil rights in Hong Kong are grounds for boycotting the games. Prominent activists have propelled these issues into mainstream consciousness, and some U.S. politicians have proposed a diplomatic boycott. To avoid international protests that might amplify calls for a boycott, organizers flew the Olympic torch directly from Athens to Beijing without a global relay. The Chinese government is keen to ensure that its own version of the Olympics will be the one on display to the world.


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