Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 11:06 UK

China to improve access for media

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

President Hu Jintao gives a speech at the Great Hall of the People - file photo
Chinese officials are to be more open to foreign media requests

China says it will become more open to foreign journalists by dealing with requests within 24 hours, reports say.

A senior government official said ministries must designate people to deal with overseas reporters as part of this "zero refusal" policy.

China says it has already become far more open towards the foreign media since last year's Beijing Olympics.

Despite this, reporters still face official obstacles and intimidation in their efforts to cover China.

The new policy was laid out by Guo Weimin, from the government's State Council Information Office, in an article in the China Daily, the main state-run English-language newspaper.

Mr Guo said government departments had to act faster when dealing with calls and interview requests from foreign journalists.

He said: "It doesn't mean all applications will be accepted, but we have to tell the media how we handled it so they can understand."

Authorities are using intimidation to silence sources and prevent [Chinese] assistants [of foreign journalists] from doing their jobs
Scott McDonald
Foreign Correspondents' Club of China

China has for some time said it is now more open to inquiries from foreign reporters.

In January 2007 it introduced new rules that changed the way foreign reporters operate in the country. These gave correspondents easier access to interviewees.

But China remains a challenging place to work, partly because of government interference, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

Certain sensitive areas, such as Tibet, remain out-of-bounds for foreign journalists, apart from those who join officially-sanctioned - and monitored - trips.

'Send a fax'

The FCCC also said the government engaged in intimidation.

"Authorities are using intimidation to silence sources and prevent [Chinese] assistants [of foreign journalists] from doing their jobs," said FCCC President Scott McDonald.

There are also other difficulties.

Senior officials rarely give interviews, questions and interview requests are often ignored, and the foreign media is sometimes the target of official vilification.

Mr Guo was not reported to have said anything about Chinese journalists, who face strict censorship and restrictions in their work.

The BBC contacted the State Council's media department to confirm that the comments in the China Daily by Mr Guo were correct.

No one was immediately available to answer the query - we were advised to fax the department our questions.

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