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Journalists sacked, fined without explanation

(IFJ/IFEX) - January 24, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is troubled to learn that seven staff members of Chengdu Commercial Newspaper, including its editor-in-chief, have been sacked or fined for allegedly misrepresenting the facts in a story.

The journalists were punished without a clear explanation following a December 12 report about a group of 18 adolescents who had become lost that day on Huangshan Mountain, Anhui Province in China's east.

The report said the lost adolescents attempted to phone the local police station three times but the calls did not get through. One member of the group then managed to send a short message to a relative who has power in Shanghai. Police from Shanghai and Anhui provinces responded by rushing to the scene, the report said. One of the rescuers fell from the mountain, but all 18 adolescents were successfully evacuated.

In the wake of the report, Shanghai Police issued a statement which denied that it was under pressure to cooperate with Anhui police to rescue the trapped adolescents. Chengdu Commercial Newspaper management responded to the events by sacking journalist Long Can, who had worked in newspapers for a decade. The other six people, including editor-in-chief Chen Shuping, subject editor Zhang Feng, the assignment editor and the editorial board were penalised either with fines from CNY 1000 to 3000 (around 150 to 450 USD), demotions, suspensions or reprimands.

"Accurate, responsible journalism is important, but these penalties are an extreme overreaction to an alleged error of fact," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

"Journalists have a duty to report the best information available, which is difficult in China where access to information is too often heavily restricted."

This is the second recent case where newspaper management was pressured to penalise a journalist. In mid-November, a reporter was demoted and moved to another section after reporting on a case involving the son of Deputy Director of Baoding Security Bureau Li Gang, who allegedly ran over two university students on October 16.

The IFJ urges the All-China Journalists Association to intervene in the case, investigate whether the newspaper was under pressure to punish the journalists and review punishment mechanisms at Chengdu Commercial Newspaper.

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