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GOVERNMENT TO BLACKLIST "FAKE" JOURNALISTS

China is planning to create a blacklist to prevent journalists who break reporting rules from working, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to CPJ, the decision was reported on an official government website, which said that the General Administration of Press and Publication, an agency that controls the country's media, will "establish a database of media professionals with a bad record."

The government said the database is part of a larger plan to tighten regulations on China's reporters. CPJ says the new controls, including press identification cards, will be put into effect starting later this month and be in place by June.

"We are alarmed by any government that attempts to decide who is a 'good' journalist and who is a 'bad' journalist," said CPJ.

The new regulations came to light after an announcement on 6 February that journalists from Hong Kong and Macau are required to apply for a press pass from the central government and get consent from interview subjects before every trip to the mainland - restrictions that had been eased for reporters as part of the government's pledge for a free media during the Beijing Olympics.

The new rules are meant to target fake news. According to CPJ, corrupt reporters are a serious problem in China's brutally competitive market, and have at times undermined the public's trust in journalists. In August 2007, a television producer was jailed for one year after fabricating a story about steamed buns filled with cardboard. In January that same year, a young reporter was beaten to death at an illegal coal mine - owners said he had tried to seek a bribe in exchange for not reporting about them.

But CPJ says legitimate journalists who report critically may also be targeted. "Media in post-Olympics China have come under more restrictions since the Games ended in August 2008. We hope the government does not use the legitimate desire to improve the integrity of media in China to continue its crackdown on reporting that is critical of the government," says CPJ.

The new rules do not apply to foreign journalists, who are regulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Seven prominent human rights organisations, including IFEX members Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, are urging U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make human rights, including domestic press censorship, a prominent topic of discussion in her visit to Beijing this week. According to the groups, at least 26 Chinese journalists remain in prison due to their work, many on ambiguous charges including "revealing state secrets" and "inciting subversion."

To read their open letter to Clinton, see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30300

Also visit these links:
- CPJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100861/
- IFEX China page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/147/
(18 February 2009)

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