China relaxes ban on media

Quinton Chan

CHINA yesterday partially lifted its controversial ban on Hongkong reporters covering this week's Sino-British talks in Beijing, but denied it was bowing to popular pressure.

New China News Agency (NCNA) deputy director Mr Zhang Junsheng said the views of the media here had been conveyed to Beijing, and he was informed yesterday by the State Council's Hongkong and Macau Affairs Office that arrangements could be made for a photo session before the talks.

''The talks would be confidential as agreed by both China and Britain,'' he said. ''Even if reporters go to Beijing, it will be impossible for them to cover the actual talks. But we can make arrangements for a photo session before the talks start.'' However, Mr Zhang denied China was succumbing to pressure, saying the request had been accepted because Beijing considered it reasonable.

He said the NCNA was not trying to bar reporters, and that their applications had not been accepted only because there would be no press briefings during the talks.

The semi-official Hongkong China News Service said in a statement the NCNA propaganda department had been told by the authorities that the talks were confidential, but some facilities would be provided for media covering them.

''No arrangement would be made for press coverage during the talks, but there would be a photo call before the talks,'' it said. ''Hongkong media which would like to be there can apply to the local branch of the NCNA.'' The partial lifting of the ban was welcomed by Executive and Legislative Councillors.

''It will be much more constructive and appropriate, from a practical point of view. The most important thing is that the public will wish to know that the talks are taking place, when they are taking place and where they are taking place,'' said Exco member Lady Dunn.

Liberal Party preparatory committee legislator Mrs Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee claimed the move was in response to pressure from the territory.

But the United Democrats charged China was still not providing proper press access to the talks.

''This is not enough. We urge the Chinese Government to do more to increase the transparency of the talks,'' said deputy chairman Mr Yeung Sum.

And independent Miss Christine Loh Kung-wai described it as only a small step in the right direction.

''The partial lifting of the media ban is far from enough . . . China is still edging towards what is acceptable,'' she said in an article in today's Sunday Morning Post.