Two sessions likely to shorten, number of reporters cut
Published: May 07, 2020 10:38 PM

Flags displayed at Tian'anmen Square and atop the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing. Photo: VCG

This year's two sessions, which have been pushed back to late May because of the coronavirus epidemic, are likely to be shortened to one week and see fewer reporters covering the event, delegates and reporters told the Global Times. 

The two sessions include the plenary sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a body that advises the government on a range of issues. 

A notice sent to a CPPCC member from Hong Kong seen by the Global Times shows that the CPPCC sessions this year will be shortened to six-and-a-half days. A Hong Kong deputy to the NPC told the Global Times that NPC sessions will last seven days.

Normal sessions in previous years usually last about two weeks. 

Analysts believe the re-convening of the two sessions shows China has achieved phased success in containing the coronavirus, and society is gradually returning to normal. Governments at various levels are ramping up steps to relieve pressure on the economy while keeping a high alert on a new wave of infections. 

Chinese and foreign reporters who have registered for the two sessions are waiting anxiously for notifications from organizers about their reporting arrangements, as this year's meetings are believed to carry special weight in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. 

Some sources told the Global Times Thursday that Chinese reporters will have to undergo nucleic acid tests on May 15, and after that they will be collectively quarantined in Beijing. 

"The number of reporters from the China Media Group covering the meetings has been slashed this year, to over 300, and some press conferences and minister interviews would be carried out through video conferences," a source at a state-owned media outlet said.

This year's two sessions will implement the closed-loop management, and journalists and delegates will be separated and transferred to conference venues through special shuttle buses, the Global Times learned.

A Chongqing-based reporter told the Global Times that there was speculation that her peers at metropolitan media outlets may not be able to go to Beijing to cover the two sessions.

An official from Lanzhou, Northwest China's Gansu Province told the Global Times that the delegates from Gansu should be quarantined for several days in the capital of Lanzhou and then come to Beijing on May 20 with nucleic acid tests.  

The official said some local reporters will come with the delegates, but the number of reporters has declined compared to last year. Meanwhile, they will be required to stay at a hotel and the conference hall, and banned from going outside during the period. These delegates will receive interviews online.

Bilal Sabri, an Islamabad-based reporter from Pakistan Today who was invited to cover the two sessions last year, told the Global Times he is worried that he could not attend the meetings this year as he has not received this year's invitation. He received the letter in February last year, one month before the meeting.

A reporter with a state-owned media outlet based in Beijing told the Global Times that they have already had a meeting regarding the arrangements and were told they can cover CPPCC sessions but not NPC sessions. Meanwhile, reporters cannot conduct face-to-face interviews with deputies or members, and only some of the foreign reporters based in Beijing will be allowed to report on the scene. 

Xu Jingbo, head of the Japan bureau of the Asian News Agency based on Tokyo, Japan, said he probably will not come this year as foreign reporters shall be quarantined for 14 days based on the capital's measures against COVID-19. Meanwhile, as Tokyo has cancelled flights to Beijing, he has to be quarantined in Shanghai. 

Having covered the two sessions with a foreign media outlet since 1997, this year may be the first time that Xu will be absent from the major political meetings.

The reduction in the number of reporters and the shortened meetings are out of safety concerns, noted Zhang Shuhua, the director of the Institute of Political Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who is also a CPPCC National Committee member. 

Nonetheless, it won't have any impact on the outcomes of the two sessions and the fulfilment of duties by NPC deputies and CPPCC members, Zhang told the Global Times Thursday.

"It is important to get the main agendas of the two sessions done, including the government work report, the financial budget for 2020 and financial accounts of 2019. Given the coronavirus situation, certain issues can be settled via video conferences during or even after the two sessions. Public opinion will always be reflected, and proposals can always be submitted," said Zhang.