Wednesday, June 28, 2006

And the gag gets tighter

I have blogged about censorship in China before ("Sailing the Censor-Ship"), and really nothing I read about Chinese Censorship surprises me anymore, but it still worries me.

The latest news is that the government is attempting to pass laws to gag the media even more effectively than before.

This should be a concern to all people of the world, not just the residents of Cina, as the implications are bigger than just being a Chinese problem (for example the suppression of the news of the 2003 SARS epidemic had global implications).

CHINA'S censors have moved to strengthen their already considerable powers by proposing that media outlets be fined up to 100,000 yuan ($17,000) every time they report on "sudden events" without clearance from government officials.

Under the draft law, officials will be given discretion to handle emergencies or "sudden events", including the right to ban reporting on developing events.

The bill does not define "sudden events", but previously the phrase has included natural disasters, major accidents, social unrest and public health issues.

Newspapers, magazines, television stations and websites could be fined if they ignore such directions.

The Draft Emergency Event Management Law, outlined in several state-run newspapers, is being reviewed by a standing committee of the National People's Congress. It has been in the pipeline since the 2003 SARS outbreak, which was initially covered up in China.

Tough penalties, including sacking, are proposed for officials who mishandle or try to cover-up accidents, but the bill also says "information that is not advantageous to the handling of the emergency is exempt from being reported".

It is feared that local authorities will interpret the power broadly to suppress embarrassing news. An editorial from New Express, a newspaper based in Guangzhou, in China's south, has already expressed concerns.

It said if the draft was passed, it could be abused by local governments who might monopolise information and prevent reporting of natural disasters and make it harder to expose corruption.

Another Guangdong newspaper, the Southern Metropolis, has also criticised the bill. It was the first to expose the SARS cover-up.

The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, and President Hu Jintao were applauded for ending the cover-up of health issues such as SARS and HIV/AIDS, but commentators have been increasingly dismayed by the tightening of control of the media under their leadership.

Last year the Government said it would begin to allow the reporting of the death tolls from natural disasters, previously classified as a state secret, in a move welcomed as providing the public with more accurate information. The draft law seems to run counter to this.

-Sydney Morning Herald, June 28 2006


Anonymous said...

At least, if we're all going to die because of some asteroid crashing into China, the fine won't matter...


Louise said...

That sure is one hell of a way to get out of a fine!!

ChinaLawBlog said...

China's media clampdown law is still in the proposal stage and the way things work in China, the longer it stays in that stage, and the more it is talked about, the less likely it is to be enacted. The silver lining in all of this is that this proposed law is increasing Chinese importance of press freedom. If this law ends up not being enacted (and I think that is a real possibility) its proposal and subsequent failure will end up being a good thing for freedom of the press in China.

Louise said...

True, but it is still somewhat scary that laws like these are even being drafted, don't you think?