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Authorities ban newspaper for three months for alleged failure to get source's comment

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 29 September 2008 IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Three-Month Shut Down of Chinese Business Newspaper

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned a decision by Chinese authorities to issue a three-month ban on the China Business Post over accusations that the business weekly did not attempt to get comment from a source in a story and therefore contravened media regulations.

The IFJ has learned that the charges are believed to stem from an article published in July on the Agricultural Bank of China, in which a journalist reported that a large sum of money was written-off by a subsidiary bank branch in a move that could be considered illegal. In the article, however, the journalist clearly states that the bank was contacted for comment but refused.

"We understand that reporters should contact subjects of their articles to get their response to criticisms or accusations but we believe that this principle has been misapplied in this case," said IFJ Deputy General Secretary Paco Audije. "According to our information, the journalist did her best to get a comment but the bank refused to answer her and she made that clear in her story. Neither she nor the newspaper should be held responsible for the bank's refusal."

The IFJ believes that this decision puts all investigative journalism in China in jeopardy because it sends the message that any person or group who is accused of malfeasance can simply refuse to comment thereby making any media who print the story subject to penalties or punishment.

If China Business Post's suspension has been handed down because of a claim of defamation, then the bank should pursue justice through the court system, the IFJ said.

The editorial department of the China Business Post, which is owned by SEEC Media, a company listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, said that they were informed that they had violated the media regulation requiring that journalists request a response from subjects of any articles that report accusations of malfeasance.

Authorities said that because the newspaper failed to comply with the regulation in one of its July 2008 issues it would be forced to suspend publication for three months.

The IFJ is urging Chinese authorities to withdraw their decision and let the China Business Post resume publication immediately.

"This independent newspaper has met the spirit and the letter of Chinese regulations and should be allowed to print its next issue without delay," Audije said. "If the ban is not lifted it undermines claims by Chinese authorities that they support free and democratic media."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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