[JURIST] Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [official profile] has signed a decree making permanent certain extensions on press freedom for foreign journalists that were temporarily adopted in the run-up to the July Beijing Olympics. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao announced late Friday, just before the temporary regulations [text, in English] were scheduled to expire, that henceforward foreign journalists would be able to travel inside the country except Tibet without requiring prior permission from the government and would be free to interview Chinese citizens. The temporary rules were adopted in January 2007. Human Rights Watch and other rights and media groups had lobbied vigorously for their extension [HRW press release]. Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) president Jonathan Watts welcomed the extension of the rules in a statement [text], but urged the government "to ensure that police and local officials respect the spirit as well as the letter of the new rules. The easing of controls for foreign journalists should not be achieved at the expense of putting more pressure on local sources." The FCCC additionally pressed for further steps, including "the enactment of legislation protecting news sources, the abolition of rules obliging hotels to report to police when a foreign journalist checks in, and the opening of restricted areas…". AP has more.
During the Olympics Chinese authorities were accused over 60 times of interfering with foreign press representatives regardless of the liberalized rules, according to FCCC statistics. The FCCC claims that overall since January 2007 it has logged more than 335 cases of reporting interference [FCCC materials]. In January 2006 China released new media regulations [text] that gave China's official Xinhua News Agency [media website] ultimate rights of approval over the distribution and domestic release of foreign news content [JURIST report] in China [JURIST news archive]. Rights and media groups continue to call for a liberalization of restrictive rules and practices applying to Chinese domestic media [HRW press release].