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Authorities block reporting on public health allegations

(IFJ/IFEX) - March 18, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned that China's Information Office of the State Council's Internet Propaganda Administrative Bureau has ordered the deletion of all references to reports of spoiled vaccines being distributed in Shanxi province.

The order was issued on March 17, 2010, after an investigative report in the "China Economic Times" on the same day reported that vaccines distributed in the province had allegedly killed or disabled almost 100 children.

The report said that organisation working under the Shanxi health authorities, which is responsible for supplying vaccines, had allegedly stored vaccines improperly, and that their exposure to high temperatures had made them potentially poisonous.

The report also said a senior manager at the organisation had allegedly engaged in corrupt activities by purchasing biological products from a company where he is a director.

"The media plays a crucial role in ensuring information about serious health concerns and alleged negligence on the part of government authorities is made available to the public," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"Banning media reporting on this major public health issue is irresponsible and the government must be held accountable."

Meanwhile, the Central Propaganda Department ordered all media outlets on March 17 to use only information provided by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency when reporting on the trial of four employees of the multinational mining company Rio Tinto. The four were arrested in July 2009 on charges of obtaining commercial secrets and bribery. Their trial begins in Shanghai on March 22.

On March 5, Premier Wen Jiaobo assured the National People's Congress of the government's commitment to improving China's press freedom status by creating policies that promote open and free media environments, including greater public recognition of the role of independent media as watchdogs of government transparency.

The IFJ reiterates its call for China's central and provincial governments to end reporting restrictions and to honour Premier Wen's pledge to encourage more open media policies.

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