Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I wish I was working in China

China appears to be opening up to foreign journalists, with a senior official from the State Council Information Office announcing that government ministries should adopt a "zero refusal" policy with foreign correspondents.

"Zero refusal means that the ministries must designate people to deal with calls and interview requests from foreign media and that they have to give a response within 24 hours or the period they prescribed, no matter what the result is," Guo Weimin, director of the SCIO press department, told China Daily, the government's main English language mouthpiece.

If (and it's a big if) upheld, this new policy from the cautious, censorious Chinese authorities contrasts sharply with the approach from many government ministries in open Singapore.

It may be one of the easiest places to do business in the world, but it is perhaps one of the hardest to do journalism.

Government spokespeople here rarely return calls before a deadline, perhaps hoping that journalists (representing both domestic and foreign publications) will not chase them and they will be spared the precarious task of actually speaking to a journalist.

Another favourite practice is not to invite foreign correspondents to any important government press conferences, perhaps because they are concerned that the news will be mis-interpreted.

To illustrate, earlier this week, I contacted the press office of the Singapore Police Force to speak to them about the rising rate of loan shark crime.

After claiming initially that I was not an accredited journalist in Singapore (I am, of course, a bona fide foreign media representative) I was eventually told that they would not speak to me, answer any questions or even provide me with any statistics because the publication I was working for on this story, the Asia Sentinel, was "not accredited".

Thanks a lot guys. Oh to be in press-friendly China...

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