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IFJ Press Freedom in China Campaign Bulletin - October 2010

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

1. China Premier Lauds Value Of Free Speech
2. RTHK Chair Rejects Call For Open Advisory Board
3. Media Ordered Not To Criticise Phone Regulation
4. Author Released But Print Worker's Situation Unknown
5. Magazine Pressured For Investigative Report
6. Investors Battle For Hong Kong Media
7. Dispute Sees Japanese Media Denied Reporting Rights

1. China Premier Lauds Value Of Free Speech

Freedom of speech is indispensible for any country, especially a developing country, China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, said in an interview with CNN on October 3. Wen noted it was important that China's Government create conditions in which people are able to voice their concerns and criticism of the Government's work. Where there is supervision and critical oversight by the people, governments are better placed to improve their performance as public servants, he said. Wen stressed that freedom of speech is enshrined in China's Constitution, but on questioning about internet restrictions and denial of free access to information, he clarified that notions of free speech must continue to be defined by the Constitution and the law.

2. RTHK Chair Rejects Call For Open Advisory Board

The chairman of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Lester Garson Huang, rejected on September 26 a request by the RTHK house union and a local pressure group for the public broadcaster's advisory board to conduct an open meeting in order to promote transparency. The union's request followed a controversial decision by the Hong Kong Government in September 2009 to retain the status of RTHK as a government department. At the time, it sought to allay concerns about editorial independence by setting up an advisory board to advise the director and deal with complaints of staff and the public about censorship within the broadcaster. Further concerns were raised in September when RTHK's director, Franklin Wong Wah-kay, requested changing the host of Headliner, a satirical program which regularly mocks Hong Kong and mainland government policies. The host remains with the program.

3. Media Ordered Not To Criticise Phone Regulation

China's media was ordered by the Central Propaganda Department in early September to report "positively" on a new regulation requiring that all mobile phone subscribers on the mainland register their personal identity before they can buy a new SIM card. Activists in China are worried that the regulation poses risks to freedom of expression and privacy, and will more easily enable authorities to tap the phones of specific individuals, including journalists and activists. The restrictions on media reporting of the issue apply to traditional and online media, including blogs.

4. Author Released But Print Worker's Situation Unknown

The IFJ welcomed the release on September 17 of journalist Xie Chaoping, after he was detained on accusations of illegally publishing a book for commercial sale. The book, The Great Migration, alleges the Weinan Government cheated farmers of land and compensation when it persuaded them to leave their homes to allow the Central Government to build the Sanmenxia Dam in the 1950s. Xie, formerly with the Procuratorial Daily, a paper controlled by the Procurator of the People's Republic of China, was detained on August 19 by security officers of Weinan, Shaanxi. He was released by the Procuratory Department for lack of evidence, but authorities then ordered Xie and his wife to leave Shaanxi immediately. The IFJ is concerned about the conditions of Xie's release, and the sub-standard conditions of his detention. Zhao Shun, a worker at a printing company in Langfang City, Hebei Province, which printed Xie's book, was also detained on September 15 by Weinan security officers. No information is available about his situation.

5. Magazine Pressured For Investigative Report

The IFJ is concerned about pressures on Caijing magazine, after seven Beijing Security Bureau officers interrogated vice editor-in-chief Luo Changping at the magazine's office in the early hours of September 21. The officers were seeking information about who authorised a report published in the magazine on September 13. The report alleged that a privately owned security company illegally detained people who were filing complaints of malpractice by local government officials, and that the security firm's clients included government officials. It was reported that police were investigating the firm.

6. Investors Battle For Hong Kong Media

On September 10, the Broadcasting Authority of Hong Kong approved local businessman Wong Ben-Koon's buy-up of 52.4 per cent of voting shares in Asia Television (ATV), which promotes itself as one of the main channels broadcasting news to Hong Kong from the mainland. According to reports, Wong is a relative of mainland property investor Wang Zheng, a member of China's People's Political Consultative Conference, who reportedly spent HK 200 million on ATV convertible bonds in March. A month later, Tsai Eng-meng, an ATV shareholder, food manufacturer and media tycoon in Taiwan, requested Hong Kong's High Court grant an interim injunction on the sale of convertible bonds. ATV's lawyer has argued that the broadcaster would face financial difficulties if it could not draw some new funds. The court case continues, while morale among staff at ATV is reported to be low, in view of concerns about financial cutbacks and editorial independence.

7. Dispute Sees Japanese Media Denied Reporting Rights

Two Japanese media outlets including Kyodo News Agency were prevented from reporting on an anti-terror drill in Beijing on September 23, apparently in relation to a dispute between China and Japan over Diaoyu Island, in the East China Sea. On September 7, Japanese authorities had detained the crew and captain of a Chinese fishing boat, alleging the boat had collided with a Japanese Marine force vessel. On September 22, China said four Japanese employees of a private Japanese company in Hebei Province had illegally entered an army zone. Kyodo's Beijing bureau chief said that although the media team received prior permission to report on the drill, along with other foreign news outlets, the Government of Beijing withdrew the permission on September 22, claiming there was insufficient room for the news team. “As far as I know, only two Japanese media outlets were not allowed to report, while the other overseas media outlets were able to cover their news,” he said.

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