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New restrictions on media enforced as Obama speaks out

(IFJ/IFEX) - November 17, 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges China's authorities to lift all restrictions on the media, after the Central Propaganda Department issued new restrictions as US President Barack Obama conducted a State visit.

The department ordered all media in China to run reports issued by the government news agency, Xinhua, during Obama's visit, while also ordering the deletion of any news or other articles referring to questions raised at a forum at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, during which Obama answered questions.

The department further forbade anyone from organizing questions to be relayed over the internet and put to Obama during a question and answer session at the museum yesterday.

The IFJ also understands that Guangzhou-controlled cable television intercepted the broadcasting signal by Asia Television of Hong Kong's English Channel while Obama was answering a question about restrictions on the internet in China.

"China's Constitution, in Article 35, refers to the right of China's citizens to freedom of expression," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said. "China's power-holders must listen to the voice of the people and uphold and protect their rights in accordance with China's Constitution."

The department also ordered that any media reports about protests or spontaneous news during Obama's visit were not to be published.

A journalist told the IFJ that Zhao Lianhai, who lost his children in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, was detained by Beijing police on 13 November and charged with "provoking an incident".

Zhao is one of the key representatives of parents whose children were killed during the earthquake and who have been calling for the Central Government to set up a full investigation into the collapse of sub-standard school buildings and assess compensation.

"We cannot write a word about this case, though we wish to," the journalist said.

In his comments at the museum yesterday, Obama said, "Freedom of expression and access to information and political participation - we believe are universal rights. They should be available to all people."

Responding to a question about Twitter that came via the internet despite the ban, Obama said, "I should be honest, as President of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn't flow so freely because then I wouldn't have to listen to people criticising me all the time."

The International Herald Tribune said he added, "Because in the United States, information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me. I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear."

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