CHENGDU - China's quake-ravaged areas remain open to overseas journalists in time of disaster relief as well as rebuilding, a Chinese government official said here Wednesday.
"Our open policy remains unchanged. Overseas reporters are welcome to the quake-hit areas in Sichuan Province to cover disaster relief, resettlement of residents as well as reconstruction," said Wang Guoqing, deputy director of the Information Office of the State Council.
Wang said some foreign reporters had complained of difficulties in accessing certain areas of the province. "We will do our best to help them," he said in Sichuan's capital Chengdu.
"I apologize for the inconvenience," he told reporters of the US National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) who were applying for special passes in Chengdu. "Frankly speaking, we need to improve our work in many ways."
Reporters to the quake zones were requested to get passes at the Sichuan provincial information office so they could be warned in time of potential dangers posed by landslides, floods or strong aftershocks, Wang said.
"We send text messages via mobile phones to keep them informed of the latest news and e-mail to them the contact information of our press officers in every county."
NBC news producer Adrienne Mong complained her colleagues had been denied entry into some off-limits areas and no explanations were given.
Wang said police had indeed cordoned off some areas to avoid further disturbing the residents' life. "More than 8 million people in the quake zones are waiting to be subsidized and are eager to restore normal life. Besides, we have to ensure everyone's safety now that dangers of aftershocks, building collapse and epidemics still loom."
Yet, these measures were not designed to ban reporters, he added. "There's a lot we can improve, for example, we can dispatch spokespersons to answer your questions next to the cordon."
The 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12 aroused widespread concern across the globe, and a multitude of journalists, rescuers, relief workers and volunteers have flooded into Sichuan ever since.
Four weeks after the quake, the death toll stood at 69,146 as of Tuesday noon, with 374,072 people injured and 17,516 missing.
China's unprecedented transparency in the publication of information since the quake has drawn positive response from domestic and international observers alike.
Wang thanked the overseas reporters for covering the earthquake in China at the risk of their own lives, and pledged China would ensure media freedom. "We still need to make some efforts though, for example, to step up training of grassroots officials so that village heads in outer areas will be as open to reporters as myself."
The regulations that took effect early last year have given foreign reporters free access to reporting on China in the run-up to and during the Beijing Olympic Games.
About 21,600 journalists with accreditation from the International Olympic Committee are expected to cover the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics.
To draw more reporters to the Beijing Games, the 2008 Beijing International Media Center (BIMC) was established to provide Olympics-related news, information and reception services to all non-accredited journalists.
More than 4,000 non-accredited reporters had applied so far, Wang said.