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Websites, some local media outlets face restrictions in reporting on milk powder scandal

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 16 September 2008 IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Restrictions on Reporting China Milk Powder Scandal

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns China's Central Propaganda Department's restrictions on websites reporting on the nationwide contaminated milk powder scandal which has rocked China in recent days.

The IFJ has learned that the central government acted to restrict reporting on the scandal, in which milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine has reportedly caused the deaths of two babies and caused more than 1200 to fall ill.

The restrictions, issued after the case became widely reported in the media, consist of five points, including a command only to publish information obtained from official government news sources such as Xinhua News Agency and China Daily. The orders also insist on positive reporting of the government's handling of the crisis, and demotion of the story on online forums or blogs.

Above all, the restrictions bar any criticism of government or health authorities' actions in the scandal.

The IFJ has also learned that some local governments and propaganda departments have directly forbidden local media to report on the scandal. Some local newspapers have not reported the case or given it only limited coverage.

"This is a prime example of the need for a strong and independent media," IFJ Asia-Pacific said. "If China's authorities continue to exert strict controls over reporting on matters of great public concern, disasters like this one will only multiply. Indeed, government restrictions on reporting may be endangering more lives because citizens are being denied essential information."

The IFJ urges China's government to stop restraining reporting and to allow its citizens the free media it has repeatedly promised.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries worldwide.

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