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Proposed China law may hit foreign media

BEIJING: A Chinese draft law that threatens to fine news media for reporting on "sudden incidents" without permission applies to foreign as well as domestic news organizations, an official involved in preparing the legislation said Monday.

The law, now under consideration by the legislature, calls for fines of up to $12,500 if news media produce unauthorized reports on outbreaks of disease, natural disasters, social disturbances or other so-called sudden incidents that officials determine to be false or harmful to China's social order.

Wang Yongqing, vice minister of the legislative affairs office of China's State Council, or cabinet, told reporters at a news briefing that the law should apply to all news organizations, including foreign newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets that usually operate under different rules than local Chinese media.

"I think they should be included - the same as if a Chinese reporter goes to France or Britain, he also has to abide by your laws," Wang said, responding to a reporter's question about the law's applicability to foreigners. "It's aimed at the activity. If you engage in reporting activities, you also have to obey these rules."

Foreign news organizations with offices inside China face travel restrictions and are monitored closely by security forces.

But the authorities in charge of propaganda generally have not sought to censor foreign news reports the way they do those of domestic publications. As a result, foreign newspapers and magazines sometimes investigate sensitive political and social issues, including outbreaks of disease and protest incidents, that local media report cannot report freely.

It is unclear whether Wang's comments, which were made after he delivered prepared remarks to a group of mainly foreign reporters at an official briefing, represented a decision by the government to impose new restrictions on foreign media or were only his personal views.

The briefing was aimed at reassuring the news media that the proposed law aims mainly to punish government officials who do a poor job of managing sudden incidents, like health emergencies or coal mine accidents. The clause pertaining to the media, Wang said, is intended only to prevent malicious behavior by news media that willfully mislead the public.

The government appreciates and "even relies on" the media to report actively on sudden incidents, and the law should not stop them from exposing corruption or cover-ups of such events as long as their reports turn out to be accurate, he said.

But the briefing may not quiet an unusually vigorous backlash against the draft law by domestic news organizations, a few of which have labeled it a step backward for press freedom.

Critics say the law could be used by local government officials to forbid coverage of strikes, riots, or accidents that they prefer to keep secret. Officials in charge of propaganda already exercise considerable sway over domestic media in such matters, but their power tends to be informal, not codified in law.

The draft law says that newspapers, magazines, news web sites and television stations should face fines ranging from $6,250 to $12,500 each time they publish information about a sudden event "without authorization."

Wang said that the fines should not be imposed unless government officials had themselves followed all the proper procedures in managing sudden incidents and then only if the news reports in question were found to be both false and harmful.

Date posted: July 3, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 9