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Private-sector companies in battle with journalists over information

(RSF/IFEX) - 26 August 2010 - Chinese journalists and media are increasingly finding themselves the targets of threats and censorship by private-sector companies (and some state companies as well). Several cases with serious implications for press freedom in China have illustrated this privatisation of censorship and violence against journalists in the past few weeks. The phenomenon is not new, but it is tending to grow in an alarming manner.

In one case, two journalists had a run-in with the police for writing a story about a biotech company. In another case, a respected Beijing journalist was physically attacked a few weeks ago after several articles about doctors and health sector entrepreneurs had a big impact.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the way certain companies harass journalists. Often accused of corrupting local media, many Chinese companies are nowadays using their influence over the authorities (including the police and Propaganda Department) to avoid negative coverage. Paradoxically, this is taking place at a time when the Chinese public is taking more interest in consumer rights and the quality of goods and services.

"We urge the government to take energetic measures to protect Chinese journalists who sometimes put their lives in danger to cover these companies," Reporters Without Borders said. "We welcome the statement that the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) issued on 30 July expressing its support for journalists. It is time the authorities investigated all these cases thoroughly."

Reporters Without Borders has gathered information about all the main press freedom cases involving Chinese companies.

One of the latest was the interrogation of journalist Liu Hongchang on 9 August by police, over an article he wrote together with a colleague, A Liang, about the internal problems of Hanlin, a Laiyang-based company based in Laiyang, in the eastern province of Shandong, and its ambitions to become a biotech giant. The article was posted on the Qianlong.com website, which was ordered to withdraw it after the Laiyang Propaganda Bureau alerted the authorities in Beijing.

The police who interrogated Liu Hongchang questioned him above all about his sources and the bribes they suspected he and A Liang were given to write the article. A Liang was not interrogated because he was absent from Beijing at the time. The police threatened to issue a warrant for his arrest if he did not respond to the summons. Several Chinese journalists have publicly expressed their support for Liu Hongchang and A Liang and accused the police of violating press freedom.

Dangerous for health, dangerous for journalists

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for an exhaustive investigation into an assault on Fang Xuanchang, a science reporter for the magazine Caijing, as he was returning home on 24 June in Beijing. Beaten over the head and back with a steel bar by two unidentified assailants, Fang had to be rushed to hospital. Until now, the police have conducted no more than desultory enquiries into what appears to have been a murder attempt.

Fang told the US magazine Foreign Policy ( http://www.foreignpolicy.com ) that his mysterious assailants clearly tried to kill him. But who tried to kill him and why? Fang does not know the identity or motives of his attackers but he has some theories. He thinks for example that they might have been hired by a doctor he criticised in one of his articles. Fang has written about medical charlatans, fake discoveries and the questionable practices of several small health-sector companies.

There are other possible motives for the attack. Fang exposed the presence of genetically-modified cereals in China. In a TV programme, he challenged a scientist's claim to be able to predict earthquakes. And he exposed a doctor who claimed to have found a miracle cure to cancer.

( . . . )

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