China's reporting climate is deteriorating, a Beijing-based foreign press club said on Thursday in a survey that found some overseas journalists were told to tone down coverage or risk visa problems.
The survey of 108 members of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said 94% believed Chinese reporting conditions had worsened over the past year, with some citing increasing official pressure.
A spokeswoman for the foreign ministry -- which handles relations with overseas media members residing in China -- rejected the findings, telling a regular press briefing that freedom of reporting had "expanded".
However, 70% of survey respondents said they experienced "interference, harassment and/or violence in the past year."
Another 40% reported that some of their Chinese sources had been "harassed, detained, called in for questioning or otherwise suffered negative consequences for interacting with foreign journalists."
"In 14 years reporting in China this is by far the most violent period," one respondent was quoted as saying in the results, which were emailed to members.
"The nature of physical harassment is much worse. Across the board, uniform and plainclothes police, local authorities and even private citizens now feel it is possible to prevent foreign reporters from doing their work."
China regularly maintains that it guarantees press freedom both for Chinese and foreign reporters.
However, Chinese journalists whose reports are deemed to cast a negative light on the ruling Communist Party are sometimes fired or even jailed.
China loosened some reporting restrictions on foreign journalists in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But authorities have placed vague new curbs on the foreign press following mysterious online calls that emerged in February for "Jasmine" rallies in China to echo those that have rocked the Arab world.
The calls have gone largely unheeded.
The press club survey said 20 of the 108 respondents reported that they experienced delays or threats when trying to renew their visas to remain in the country and quoted some members as saying authorities told them it was due to coverage deemed objectionable.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Thursday repeated that the press association was an illegal organisation, while denying the climate was worsening.
"With the foreign press expanding their agencies and increasing their personnel in China, your freedom of reporting activites around China have also been expanded. This is a very objective fact," she said.