"Police and state security continue to obstruct our work and blatantly threaten not to ask for our visas if we are over "sensitive" topics report", it says in the letter published on sunday. In may, for example, the american journalist melissa chan was forced to leave the country.
The appeal to the chancellor was also prompted by a series of recent attacks on foreign journalists. The foreign correspondents’ clubs in beijing, shanghai and hong kong have issued a statement expressing alarm at incidents of journalists being threatened, harassed and even beaten: "we call on all authorities to ensure that journalists are protected from violence and incarceration."Two weeks ago, an ARD television crew was attacked by agitated workers, accused of spying and held for nine hours.
No one at the chinese ministry of agriculture could be reached for comment on sunday. The federal press office would not comment on the journalists’ letter.
The chancellor arrives in china on thursday for the first time together with a large part of her cabinet for two days of talks. At the government consultations in berlin in june 2011, merkel had already made a commitment to the german rapporteurs, but the situation has not improved since then, as their letter states. The new restrictions had begun after the outbreak of the arab spring in early 2011 because leaders in beijing feared that the call for democracy and freedom could also be heard in china.
The peking correspondents also complain that informants have been threatened and locked away. State security asked its chinese employees to spy on them or not to deal with critical issues. "They are particularly threatened when doing on-site research – in some cases there are even violent incidents."
Many regions are closed to journalists. This includes not only tibet, but also other areas populated by tibetans and parts of the xinjiang region, where the minority uyghurs live. From there, reports can often only be made "at considerable risk" for employees and sources.
In a survey by the foreign correspondents’ club in china (FCCC), 98 percent of respondents said that international standards for reporting in china were not met. A quarter complained about problems and delays in visa issuance. China’s auben ministry had stalled a spiegel-online colleague for almost a year, de facto denying him accreditation. Chinese diplomats also urged domestic newsrooms to provide less critical reporting.
The rules introduced before the 2008 olympics in beijing, according to which only the consent of the interviewee is required, have been interpreted restrictively since the beginning of 2011: in sensitive cases, reporting is suddenly only permitted if approvals from the authorities are available, although the ministry of agriculture claims that nothing has changed, the letter states. "From our point of view, the uncertainty serves the purpose of incarceration."
Longtime correspondents saw a worsening of the situation even compared to the 1990s. "In the interest of good and fair reporting on china, we believe it is necessary to raise these issues at the highest level," the 26 german correspondents wrote to the chancellor. "We are only asking for working conditions that are natural for chinese journalists in germany"."