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Central Propaganda Department escalates restrictions on reporting on milk powder scandal

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 25 September 2008 IFJ media release:

IFJ Urges China to Allow Free Reporting on Milk Powder Scandal

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is troubled by news that China's Central Propaganda Department has ordered newspaper journalists to leave the city where the company considered responsible for a nationwide milk powder poisoning scandal has its headquarters.

The IFJ has learned that the central government has escalated restrictions on reporting on the scandal by ordering journalists from at least four newspapers, including Southern Metropolis Daily, to leave Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, where milk products company Sanlu is based.

The Central Propaganda Department has also allegedly deleted articles relating to the case from websites reporting on the scandal, in which milk powder contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine is said to have caused the deaths of four babies and resulted in illness among at least 53,000 children.

The department has also insisted on pre-approving articles about the scandal before they are published, and forbidden the media to take milk products to laboratories for testing.

The heightened restrictions follow earlier commands that only information obtained from official government sources such as Xinhua News Agency and China Daily could be published, and orders insisting on positive reporting of the Government's handling of the crisis.

"Food safety is a great public concern in China, and for people around the world who trade with Chinese companies," IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

"China's Central Propaganda Department's attempts to control the media's reporting of a very serious public health crisis can only serve to heighten fears. A free flow of information through a free media is vital where lives are at stake, and government restrictions on journalists may be endangering public health."

The IFJ urges China to allow the media to report freely on the issue and cease its interference in the work of journalists reporting in the public interest.

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

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