What Not To Cover

A new report details China's media gag orders in 2009.

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China Media 305 A woman looks at newspapers and magazines on one of Beijing's many newsstands, Dec. 3, 2008.
AFP/Peter Parks

HONG KONG—China’s powerful Central Propaganda Department issued at least 62 gag orders on state-controlled media in 2009, according to a new report on press freedom in the country.

“From the beginning of 2009, many various orders were issued to restrict content and prevent free media reporting on a range of topics related to foreign affairs and matters of public interest such as health and safety,” the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said.

At least seven media gag orders were issued by the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda arm following deadly ethnic riots in the northwestern city of Urumqi in July, said the report, titled “China Clings to Control: Press Freedom in 2009.”

Media directives were also issued limiting reporting on a corruption scandal involving Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng, the election of Macau’s Chief Executive in March, and political reform in Hong Kong, the report said.

The IFJ called the report an incomplete list of 62 propaganda guidelines to journalists made in 2009.

State media were ordered to use nothing but official reports from Xinhua News Agency regarding a court verdict in the Sanlu tainted milk powder case, with no commentary or investigative reporting permitted, it said.

Reporters were banned from traveling to the disaster-hit regions of southwestern Sichuan province to report on reconstruction efforts, one year after the devastating earthquake of May 12, 2008.

Free speech ‘not allowed’

They were also warned against covering the sacking of former Communist Party chief and deputy director of the Shenzhen Maritime Safety Administration, Lin Jiaxiang, who was dismissed for alleged drunken behavior and child molestation.

U.S.-based Chinese rights activist Liu Nianchun said the media bans show that Beijing doesn't espouse freedom of expression as a universal value, although it is guaranteed under Article 35 of China’s Constitution.

“Their direction is different from the general direction outside China,” Liu said.

“They take an oppositional attitude to these international values.”

“China has always been this way, in fact. Free speech is simply not allowed.”

U.S.-based political commentator Zeng Ning said the media bans were a product of China’s current situation.

“There is no room for freedom of expression under an authoritarian regime with a monotone value system,” Zeng said.

Social unrest growing

“It is very hard to establish it on such a basis.”

As social unrest groes around the country, Zeng said, the authorities will continue to do everything they can to crack down on media reporting, for fear of harm to social stability.

“At the height of a social crisis, the Chinese government is cracking down with all manner of social controls, and these are getting tighter and tighter,” Zeng said.

IFJ general secretary Aidan White called on the international community to oppose restrictions on the rights of journalists to do their work in China.

White cited a “steady stream of official bans as well as new rules in 2009 which make it virtually impossible for local journalists who work in traditional or online media to receive the accreditation they need in order to conduct their profession.”

The IFJ report details 62 bans issued from January to November 2009, among hundreds of regulations issued by central and provincial authorities in the past year.

“The IFJ list indicates that much as China’s censors are maintaining a vigilant eye, they are also struggling to maintain a grip on information dissemination,” White said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Yang Jiadai. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han


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