(ATR) China has issued new temporary regulations for foreign journalists that will relax current rules for the Beijing Olympics.
The foreign ministry says the regulations will "facilitate reporting activities...and promote the Olympic spirit" during the 2008 Games.
They meet China's "important obligation" to follow the "rules and practices of the Olympic Games", ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters Friday.
The regulations apply from January 1, 2007 until October 17, 2008 and allow foreign journalists to travel anywhere in China to report on the Beijing Olympics and "related matters".
The only exception is China's sensitive Tibet region, for which all foreigners require special permits in addition to a Chinese visa.
"The new regulations mean that when you travel in China you have the same rights as all foreign nationals in China," Liu said.
"You don't have to apply for approval from the local foreign affairs department or offices [outside Beijing]," he said.
"They will not ask you what you are doing unless there are some special concerns in terms of public interest or social order, but that does not target foreign journalists.
"I believe that the foreign affairs offices will have a clear understanding of the spirit of these new regulations," Liu said.
"They will provide convenience to reporting instead of interference."
Vincent Brosser, head of the Asia desk for Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, welcomed the regulations but said they were "limited in time and limited in effect".
"We want a permanent change in the way that the authorities rule the work of foreign journalists," he said.
"My first comment is that it's under pressure that the government is changing the rules," he said.
With more than 20,000 foreign journalists expected in China before and during the Games, Brossel said the sheer frequency of contact between them and Chinese journalists, assistants and activists could affect the overall media climate in China.
"The simple fact that Chinese journalists can be involved, can be in contact [with foreign journalists]... can have an impact," he said.
Liu said the "related maters" provision in the regulations "expands the areas on which foreign journalists can report".
"According to the experience of many countries who have hosted the Olympic Games, when journalists come to cover the Olympics, they not only cover the Games itself," he said.
"They will also cover the politics, science, technology and economy of the host country."
Police will still take "normal measures" to control emergency incidents and accidents", but that also "does not target foreign journalists", he said.
Foreign journalists are frequently detained in China, which currently requires all reporters to seek advance permission from local authorities before investigating any story.
If permission is granted, officials normally try to control the entire process of reporting and often stage-manage visits and interviews.
Any form of non-sanctioned interview or photography can be deemed "illegal reporting" under Chinese law, even in Beijing where most foreign journalists are based.
Chinese journalists face stricter rules and censorship of their reports by state media.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says it recorded 32 journalists in Chinese prisons at the end of last year, the highest total in the world.Reported from Beijing by Bill SmithThe new media rules can be viewed in a separate story at www.aroundtherings.com. To see the story, click here.Your best source of news about the Olympics is www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.