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‘Journos Abroad’ AFP, “China is opening up, but it’s still a tough situation”

Submitted by on May 16, 2012 – 10:42 pmNo Comment

Eric Wishart (second left) chairing a debate about journalistic safety at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong.

According to Eric Wishart, Agence France-Presse Asia region chief, China is a still a difficult country to work in, but things are looking up.

So how is the current situation in China, do you have any presence there?

We have bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But in China it’s difficult because if you try to cover situations you get taken away if there is trouble. We try to go to these places and have to try to get round the local police. A foreigner would stand out, so we try to get a Chinese person. China has definitely opened up compared to before but traveling around China is still not easy, especially Tibet.

Didn’t the Olympics open things up?

I don’t think the Olympics changed anything, despite what experts said. At present we’re in a tense situation with the leadership change under way and troubles in the villages. The first time I went to Beijing in 1996 our office was in the diplomatic compound and no one could visit either our office or our home. Now we have a modern office and the whole place has changed, but it’s still not easy. If you make a mistake there could be a lot of trouble. When I go to Beijing I go to Xinhua and our relations are very cordial. Even in the UK and US if they don’t like what you say you’ll come under pressure.

So it’s all collaborations with Chinese journalists?

We are not allowed to hire Chinese journalists in China – we can only hire “editorial assistants”, and they are provided by a bureau controlled by the government. They do journalistic work but their main role is as facilitators. China is a big story and a big market, and we are negotiating with the Shanghai Daily right now.

Do you deliver any services or similar to the media in China?

There is no Chinese language service because we don’t have free access in China, and if you can’t hit the mainland market then it’s a bit pointless. We do have Chinese products, but we produce a lot in English. We used to translate into local languages but now we’re starting to have partnerships in different countries, and they take the English service and translate it themselves. Antara (the Indonesian news agency) takes the service in English and translates it into Bahasa and makes multimedia products. We’ve done that in Indonesia and in Pakistan, with Urdu – which also circulates in India – and soon we will do that in Vietnam and Thailand. There is a big project in Japan because of the banks there, and the group who own Yahoo.

How about journalistic safety in the East? Do you face any problems?

Covering demonstrations can be risky, or visiting the areas of China where ethnic Tibetans live, police don’t like you to be there. Situations can deteriorate quickly and you can get beaten up. Even in Hong Kong things can get out of hand quickly.

 

 

 

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