On any given day in Beijing, just before sunrise, thousands gather in Tiananmen Square to witness the daily raising of the Chinese flag — but it's a scene Western audiences rarely get to see.
Journalists often are turned away over obscure equipment rules or for not having the proper paperwork — even those with credentials from the foreign ministry — an experience indicative of the general difficulty of reporting in Beijing.
Now the influx of foreign media into Beijing for the Olympic Games is exposing old tensions between journalists and government authorities and bringing to the fore sensitive human rights issues, particularly in Tibet.
The march of the Olympic torch through Tibet was by any standard a public relations nightmare for China, following in the wake of a large uprising in March in Lhasa — the most violent altercation there in almost two decades.
Chinese authorities severely limited foreign media coverage of both events in a desperate attempt to put their best face forward in a time of almost unprecedented international scrutiny.
China says it is committed to providing the most open environment possible and desires greater acceptance in the international community, but it has drawn criticism for restricting Web sites including those of Amnesty International and the Falun Gong spiritual movement. China says they are subversive and unnecessary to ensure quality journalism.
These moves have largely backfired, feeding the fire of criticism surrounding China’s media policies and treatment of foreign press — particularly after Chinese police beat two Japanese journalists trying to report on a terrorist attack.
Yet Beijing represents an extreme end of the spectrum in terms of media regulation, and cities such as Shanghai and more rural Chinese regions tend to be comparatively easy for journalists to navigate.
And despite tensions with the international media, there is evidence that China is making a concerted effort to accommodate and cooperate with foreign and even Western preferences.
Chinese citizens have made a massive effort to improve their English and brush up on their knowledge of Western fashion. China has reportedly spent close to $43 billion on construction and general improvements in Beijing, attempting to reduce air pollution and provide organic produce for athletes and visitors.
But such efforts have largely been overshadowed by China’s failure to improve government relations with the media. In Beijing, journalists hoping to cover events such as the morning flag-raising have learned to overcome resistance simply by insisting on passing through barriers when necessary.
As for the Olympic Games, such tactics are sure to be far less successful, and the recent evidence indicates that foreign journalists will face strict regulation, perhaps at the expense of quality coverage.
FOX News' Andrew Fone contributed to this report.