China accused of blocking media access to Winter Olympics

Chinese authorities have been accused of “continuously stymying” attempts by foreign media to cover the Winter Olympics, by denying or ignoring requests for access and following, harassing and abusing journalists.

In a scathing statement on Tuesday, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which acts on behalf of foreign media in China, called for transparency and clarity from China’s national Olympic organising committee.

The club also accused the committee of failing to uphold the International Olympic Committee’s charter requiring it to ensure the fullest media coverage possible for the widest global audience. The Games are due to take place in Beijing in February.

“Our members’ repeated inquiries towards [Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games] on how international media can report on the Games have been met with conflicting answers or neglected completely,” the FCCC said.

“FCCC members report spending weeks trying to obtain contact details for BOCOG media facilitators, only to receive dismissive or inaccurate information from them.”

The FCCC said in the past year foreign journalists had been largely unable to access press conferences or events that were open to domestic media, including the arrival of the Olympic flame. It said many press dates were not publicised, or announced with only a few hours’ notice.

“Foreign journalists who attempt to register for events are denied because BOCOG limits attendance to only their chosen media outlets, claim the event is full, or because they require participants to submit Covid test results within an impossible timeframe of only a few hours.”

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.

The FCCC said the conditions for visiting accredited foreign journalists were also unclear, including whether they would be allowed to travel within and outside Beijing, and what quarantine measures were required of them.

China is committed to a zero-Covid strategy and has enacted a “closed loop” management system for the Games, within which all participants and employees can only move between Games-related venues for training, competitions and work on a dedicated transport system.

China’s relationship with international media has plummeted in recent years. Many in-country positions – including for major outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, and all Australian outlets – remain empty after Beijing expelled or forced out dozens of reporters in 2020. It has since processed very few visa applications for journalists outside China hoping to go in, and dozens remain outstanding, leaving outlets with inadequate teams to cover the event.

The FCC called on the BOCOG to provide transparency and clarity for international media, process outstanding visas, improve access and permission to press events and venues, and to appoint dedicated media communications officers who provide real assistance.

“With less than three months remaining before the start of Beijing 2022, there is still tremendous uncertainty over how and if foreign correspondents will be able to cover the Games,” the FCCC said.

The BOCOG has been contacted for a response.

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