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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin - September 2010

(IFJ/IFEX) - 8 September 2010 - In this bulletin:

1. Premier Highlights China Media's Key Role
2. Authorities Block Reporting Of Aircraft Crash
3. Reporting On Philippines Hostage Crisis Restricted
4. Media Ordered Not To Report On Xinjiang Blast
5. Columnist Suspended Without Explanation
6. Open Reporting On Food Safety Essential To Public Interest
7. Deadly Mudslide Off Limits
8. Security Guards Assault Journalists
9. Journalist Interrogated By Police In China

1. Premier Highlights China Media's Key Role

The IFJ welcomed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's public confirmation of the important role the media plays in reporting illegal activities and improper behaviour by officials. Addressing government officials on August 27, Wen urged them to strictly adhere to the law and steer away from corruption. Wen also urged them to ensure public ideas are fully reflected during the legislative process. He called for a transparent and open government work system, though protecting state and commercial secrets and individual privacy. Areas to be open to public scrutiny include budgets, management of public resources, major construction projects and charities, he said. Wen further urged support for media exposure of illegal activities and improper behaviour by government officials. While welcoming recognition of the media's rights and role as a watchdog on accountability, the IFJ remains concerned that restrictive orders and bans on media reporting continue to be issued by China's authorities, and incidents of assault and harassment of journalists occur too commonly.

2. Authorities Block Reporting Of Aircraft Crash

The IFJ expressed concern about the detention of journalists who were reporting on a deadly aircraft crash in China's north-east, and about restrictions on reporting details of the incident's aftermath. A plane with 96 passengers crashed at Yichun City airport, Heilongjiang Province, on August 24, killing 42 and injuring 54. Several government officials were among those killed in the crash, which was widely covered by media from several provinces. A journalist told the IFJ that the Central Propaganda Department issued an order "which demands media not focus on the injured government officials". Police detained at least four journalists for two hours on August 28 when they attempted to report on the aftermath of the crash, and take images at a funeral, according to a Beijing News report. One of the journalists said that up to three police manhandled him and handcuffed his hands behind his back. The Minister of Yichun City's Security Bureau apologised to the detained journalists.

3. Reporting On Philippines Hostage Crisis Restricted

The Central Propaganda Department ordered China's media not to report negatively on a hostage crisis in the Philippines on August 23. Eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in Manila on August 23, amid a day-long siege by Philippines police following the hijacking of a tour bus with 22 passengers by a former policeman. Seven people were injured. The cause of death of those killed remains unclear. The propaganda department demanded that all media in China should report positively on the evacuation of the survivors. There should be no reporting or sensationalist comment which could disturb bilateral relationships between China and the Philippines, the order said. China's journalists were told to report directly from statements issued by China's Foreign Ministry. "This is a strict rule. We have to follow the Foreign Ministry's announcement when reporting any case involving foreign affairs," a journalist from China said.

4. Media Ordered Not To Report On Xinjiang Blast

All media, including China's state-owned Xinhua News Agency, was ordered not to report on an explosion in western China that killed seven people on August 19. The Central Propaganda Department issued the blanket ban immediately after the explosion in Aksu City, Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region. Fourteen people were injured. The order said media must not republish any reports by Xinhua or Xinjiang local media outlets, or compile individual reports. Xinhua reported the explosion was caused by a bomb, and that a suspect was arrested. "The motive behind what appears to be a bomb blast in China's western Xinjiang region is not yet clear," the Xinhua report said, "But many will suspect it is linked to the region's ongoing ethnic tension." The IFJ urged China's authorities to lift the ban immediately, as in times of crisis it is essential that the public is able to access updated and credible information. The IFJ reminded China's authorities that under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression includes the right for people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.

5. Columnist Suspended Without Explanation

Columnist Zhang Ping, who uses the pen name Chang Ping in writing for Southern Metropolis Daily and Southern Metropolis Weekly newspapers, was suddenly suspended from writing in mid-August. According to Radio Free Asia, he said the Southern Group management did not provide him with an explanation, but indicated they had received some pressure from un-named departments. Zhang did not believe his suspension was related to his articles, as none of his recent work was sensitive in nature. Zhang, a well-known intellectual, was the vice editor-in-chief of Southern Metropolis Weekly until he was removed after writing an article against nationalism following an outburst of anti-western media sentiment after unrest in Tibet in 2008.

6. Open Reporting On Food Safety Essential To Public Interest

China's authorities banned reporting on cases in which a milk powder product was suspected of bringing on puberty in babies. The order by the Central Propaganda Department on August 13 required the media to stop reporting that Synutra formula was the suspected cause of infant girls appearing to experience early sexual development. The order followed a series of media reports in early August about three baby girls in Wuhan, Hubei Province, central China, who were found to have an appearance of early sexual development after they had consumed the milk powder for a period of time. China's Ministry of Health responded on August 12 by announcing a panel of nine experts to investigate. On August 15, the ministry said the investigation had concluded that there was no evidence to prove a link between the powder and signs of puberty in babies. The IFJ called on China's authorities to lift the ban, as open reporting on food safety cases is essential to allow the truth to be uncovered and to reduce public anxiety.

7. Deadly Mudslide Off Limits

Journalists were restricted in their reporting on last month's deadly mudslide in north-west China. The Central Propaganda Department ordered on August 8 that no journalists be sent to the vicinity of the mudslide in Zhouqu County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. The mudslide reportedly killed at least 127 people and more than 1000 people were missing, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. The IFJ stressed that transparent reporting on natural disasters provides information to the public that can help save lives. The IFJ urged the All China Journalists' Association to remind all media outlets of the need to ensure safety precautions are in place for media workers, including provision of insurance and adequate training in the reporting of natural disasters.

8. Security Guards Assault Journalists

The IFJ was disturbed by the violent behaviour of a group of security officers who assaulted journalists as they were reporting in southern China. Zhang Peng and Wu Shaomin, of Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, went to Humen Town, Dongguan, to investigate a complaint about a quarrel on August 31 between security officers and drivers who may have breached parking rules, according to the newspaper's report. When they tried to take photos, the journalists were blocked by a security officer. Zhang then tried to use his cell phone to capture images, but he was intercepted by four security guards who snatched the phone. Zhang went to a police car but one of the guards chased him and assaulted him, cutting his temple and punching his head and neck. The IFJ called on China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) to promote the right of journalists to freely report the news and to urge the police to conduct a speedy and fair investigation into the incident.

9. Journalist Interrogated By Police In China

Two Beijing-based journalists at Qianlong.com, a website co-owned by several Beijing media outlets and internet companies, reported on July 21 that Shandong Hilead Biotechnology, of Laiyang City, Shandong province, was possibly involved in a dispute over product ownership. Laiyang's propaganda department asked the website on July 23 and 31 to withdraw the articles. Qianlong.com's publishers refused. Laiyang police then unexpectedly arrived in Beijing and interrogated one of the journalists for several hours. The officers forced the journalist to disclose the source of the report before releasing him. The officers then contacted the other journalist by phone and demanded he accompany them to Beijing for further inquiries. The journalist, who was on vacation at the time, refused to comply with the demand after consulting a lawyer. "A journalist's right to protect sources is a cornerstone of press freedom, which must be respected by all levels of government administration, including the police," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

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