By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008
President Bush sat down yesterday for interviews with foreign journalists, including two unusual media outlets: the People's Daily newspaper and the Central China Television network, both controlled by China's ruling Communist Party.
The two state-run organizations were subject to the same rules as independent media companies, meaning they may edit the interviews as they wish, White House officials said yesterday. The CCTV's report on the interview is scheduled to be broadcast today, U.S. officials said.
The arrangement raises concerns among activist groups on both the right and the left that criticize Beijing's heavy media censorship. It came on the same day China announced that journalists will be restricted in the Internet sites they can access while covering the Olympics.
White House spokesman Gordon D. Johndroe said a People's Daily correspondent participated in a roundtable with other Asian newspapers, while CCTV had a one-on-one interview with Bush. He said the White House will release full transcripts, as it always does with such interviews.
"We don't place restrictions or ground rules on any press," Johndroe said, adding in regard to CCTV: "We certainly expect that his interview be broadcast, if not in full, then not edited in a way that would in any way mischaracterize what he said."
Johndroe said Bush touched on the same themes of human rights and religious freedom that he regularly talks about when discussing China.
Ellen Bork, executive director at the Project for the New American Century, a conservative policy organization, said it is "a false analogy" to compare CCTV to free-market communication companies. She and other activists note that Chinese citizens are not free to access the transcripts provided by the White House.
"It's surprising that someone who works in freedom would make that kind of comparison," she said.
The interviews with state-run media illustrate the balancing act that Bush is attempting as he prepares to become the first U.S. president to attend a foreign Olympics. While resisting calls from human rights groups to boycott the opening ceremonies, Bush met this week with Chinese dissidents in Washington and has vowed to bring to Beijing a message focused on human rights and religious freedom.
Bush had one prior interview with CCTV, in February 2002, according to the White House. A CCTV reporter paraphrased Bush calling China "a great country" and "a very intelligent, diligent nation with rich natural resources," apparently with no criticism. During Bush's visit to Beijing in 2005, China's main national news broadcast made no mention of comments he made on religious freedom after a visit to a church, according to Western news reports.
Johndroe said that a full transcript of the 2002 interview was not readily available, but that officials were looking for it. It was not posted on the White House Web site as of late yesterday.
Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said state-run media in China "have a record of saying they won't edit, and then turning around and editing anyway."
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.