BEIJING (AP) - Journalism and human rights groups on Tuesday criticized China's new controls on foreign news agencies as harmful to Chinese society and a possible threat to coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Regulations released Sunday give the government's Xinhua News Agency control over distribution within China of news, information and other services from foreign agencies. Xinhua said it would delete items deemed to violate national unity or social stability.
"These new regulations on the distribution of foreign news are a step backward," Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.
The rules appear designed to shut out foreign news agencies such as The Associated Press and Reuters Group PLC from the fast-growing Chinese market in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. They come as the communist leadership has clamped down on mainstream media and the Internet, firing and even arresting aggressive reporters and editors.
"These measures are an authoritarian attempt to control news and information dissemination and the access of China's users to uncensored news and information," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.
Xinhua has said the new rules were intended to promote the distribution of news and information in a "sound and orderly manner." The Chinese government did not immediately comment Tuesday on the rules, or the criticism.
Hom said the regulations could deprive Chinese society of information necessary to address corruption and social problems, obstructing efforts to create a more accountable government.
The regulations do not cover how foreign media are to report on China for international audiences. But Hom said Beijing's willingness to use such heavy-handed tactics makes it unlikely it will allow foreign journalists to freely cover the 2008 Olympics.
"These latest measures sound a wake-up call to the international community that a closed, state-controlled Olympics is on the horizon," she said.
Beijing has said that it is committed to ensuring journalists the same press freedoms allowed at other games.
Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said the regulations might violate China's market-opening commitments to the World Trade Organization.
The European Union criticized the regulations on Monday and said it would take them up at human rights talks with China in October.
"Any kind of restrictions on the freedom of the press, increasing the intervention of the state, is a very negative development," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
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