Keeping region open to media crucial, experts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 July, 2009, 12:00am
 

The decision to allow independent media to stay in Urumqi was correct and it was crucial that Beijing kept Xinjiang open to world media, experts said yesterday.

As of last night, reporters were allowed to stay in the city even as armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets, and there were reports of some confrontations between Han and Uygurs.

Reporters were generally unhindered in their work, though they remained barred from sensitive areas, such as Uygur neighbourhoods, and some news organisations complained of brief detentions.

Beijing has shown a determination to create an open environment for overseas media in the aftermath of Sunday's riots that left at least 156 dead and over 800 injured.

Xinjiang's local government also co-operated by arranging regular news briefings and a media tour, and providing internet access in the media centre, the only place in the region that has access after authorities shut down Web access to control the spread of information.

A Xinjiang spokesman promised to provide assistance and convenience for overseas media so long as it was safe to do so, Xinhua said.

Experts said it was crucial that the situation remained like this otherwise the mainland's attempts to improve its image and be seen as open and responsible would be harmed.

'It is already a great improvement for central authorities and media administrators to tolerate free reporting by foreign media in the city, compared with the total shut-down to the outside world in Tibet last March,' Zhan Jiang, a professor at the journalism and communication department of the China Youth University for Political Sciences, said.

'As we could see, despite different news angles and news language, most of the overseas media has reported the Urumqi riots in a balanced way, which would help the world understand the damage caused by the rioters and earn more sympathy and support.

'The presence of foreign media would also help both sides keep calm in the chaotic situation,' Professor Zhan said. 'In front of the foreign media's cameras, the police would try to maintain maximum self-control and the protesters would probably stop displaying their anger and thirst for revenge.'

But Professor Zhan cautioned that as the situation in the city remained complex, coping with foreign media was a major challenge for local authorities. 'If they allow reporters to stay, they should try to ensure their reporting freedom and avoid actions such as detaining reporters or confiscating equipment.'

'Central authorities have made great efforts to come up with sensible and transparent press policies for big emergencies, especially in the wake of the Tibet riots and the Beijing Olympics in 2008,' Zhang Zhi, from the School of Literature, Journalism and Communication at Minzu University, said.

'In many propaganda officials' minds, they have realised that international media would actually help the world understand more about the real China, as their reports are more professional, more advanced and more easily received by overseas audiences than those from propaganda mouthpieces,' Professor Zhang said.

'To allow foreign media to report freely in the city would greatly help the world get a sense of the damage the riots caused in Urumqi and what really happened,' he added.

Professor Zhang suggested another reason the foreign media has been granted greater freedom was that the nature of the riots was already obvious.

'The maintenance of social stability is a more important and challenging task for the government and propaganda officials, and that is why the unofficial channels of information on the internet were strictly controlled,' he said.

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